Protecting Your Heart When You Have Psoriatic Arthritis

Learn how PsA impacts the health of your whole body—and how to protect yourself from heart disease.

A woman with psoriatic arthritis and high blood pressure rests after a workout—checking her heart rate on a smartwatch.

Medically reviewed in January 2020

Updated on February 1, 2021

If you have psoriatic arthritis (PsA), you know that it affects a lot of your body. You can especially feel it through aching joints and painful skin. But other parts of your body could be suffering with you not even feeling a thing. Sometimes invisible problems, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, may not be the first thing you associate with PsA. But they can seriously shake up your health. 

A few small studies have connected psoriatic arthritis with high cholesterol and other conditions that are bad news for your heart. One study published in 2014 suggested that metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance—which raise the risk for heart attack and stroke— seem to be more common in people with PsA compared to the general population. Not coincidently, in people with psoriatic arthritis, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death and it's responsible for shorter lifespans. 

One other big risk factor? Obesity. Being overweight can lead to an increase in “bad” LDL cholesterol and a decrease in “good” HDL cholesterol. People with psoriasis are more likely to become obese. 

"I think obesity is an important problem. It can affect the success of PsA treatment," says Arthur Kavanaugh, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Innovative Therapy (CIT) at UC San Diego Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology. 

How to protect your heart with PsA 
So what can you do if you think your heart is in trouble? You can ask to have your cholesterol levels checked by your doctor. 

"Because dyslipidemia is a common issue with PsA, cholesterol is something that gets checked for many patients," says Dr. Kavanaugh. People with PsA who may want to consider a cholesterol test are those with other risk factors for heart disease, he explains. 

Depending on your test results, your doctor may recommend medicine to help lower your cholesterol. Kavanaugh says most cholesterol drugs are OK to take along with PsA meds. 

Most importantly, you've got to stick with your PsA treatment. Experts say the more severe your PsA is, the worse your cholesterol probably is. That's one more reason to get your skin and joint symptoms under control, so you can get on the path toward total healthy living. 

Outside of medication, there are a few lifestyle tweaks you can follow to be cholesterol smart: 

  • Exercise daily. Walking every day can boost your health. It may be easier than it sounds!  
  • Switch up your diet. Limit fats and eat plenty of heart-happy fruits and veggies. The DASH diet is a popular option. 
  • Talk openly with your doctor. Your rheumatologist or dermatologist may not always ask about your heart, so don't be afraid to bring it up and ask questions about your cholesterol. Sometimes, it takes a smart patient like you to get the ball rolling.

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