Patients undergoing biologic treatment for psoriasis, a relatively common inflammatory skin condition, have seen a reduction in arterial plaque buildup – a coronary affliction that can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Biologic drugs act as an immunosuppressant, treating psoriasis by reducing the frequency of flare-ups and the severity of the symptoms experienced. According to a study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a sector of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), immunotherapy treatments could be the key to decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Classically, a heart attack is caused by one of five risk factors: diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, family history, or smoking,” stated Dr. Nehal N. Mehta, Head of the Lab of Inflammation and Cardiometabolic Diseases at NHLBI. “Our study presents evidence that there is a sixth factor, inflammation; and that it is critical to both the development and the progression of atherosclerosis to heart attack.”
Diseases such as psoriasis are often associated with a heightened level of systemic inflammation. Although the body’s inflammatory triggers are designed to ward off infection or disease, they can also work against the patient. If the inflammatory response causes unwanted blood clots or clogged arteries, it could ultimately result in a heart attack or stroke. This means that people with inflammatory diseases have a significantly higher risk of suffering from a cardiovascular event.
Out of the 121 patients who suffered from moderate-to-severe psoriasis, those who elected to receive the biologic therapy saw an 8 percent reduction in coronary artery plaque. “This appears to be an anti-inflammatory effect,” said Dr. Mehta. “In the absence of improvement in other cardiovascular risk factors, and without adding new cholesterol medications, patients’ soft-plaque still improved. The only change was the severity of their skin disease.”
The study’s encouraging findings provide the first “in-human” evidence that an immunosuppressing, biologic therapy for a known inflammatory condition could prompt a reduction in coronary artery disease. Although further research will need to be conducted in order to clarify and confirm causation, the results so far are a much-needed source of positivity for psoriasis sufferers.