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Is There a Link Between Psoriasis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Learn how these two inflammatory conditions are connected and what psoriasis patients need to know.

Is There a Link Between Psoriasis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Psoriasis can manifest in a variety of skin symptoms. The most common form is plaque psoriasis, which causes patches of thickened skin that is red and scaled in appearance. But psoriasis can also manifest as white, pus-filled blisters (pustular psoriasis), small red dots (guttate psoriasis) and red lesions in places where skin folds against skin, such as the armpits, buttocks and genital area (inverse psoriasis).

Regardless of the type, people with psoriasis are at an increased risk of a number of other health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, eye problems and depression. Psoriasis patients are also at an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

What is IBD?
Inflammatory bowel disease is the term given to a pair of diseases that cause chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).

Like psoriasis, Crohn’s and UC symptoms are caused by an abnormal response by the immune system. IBD is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease where the immune system attacks food, bacteria and other benign materials inside the gastrointestinal tract, causing inflammation. While Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, UC is confined to the large intestine. Though each is a distinct condition, both can cause a number of similar symptoms, including abdominal cramps and pain, frequent bowel movements, weight loss, fatigue, diarrhea and rectal bleeding. Anyone experiencing these symptoms must see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

As with other autoimmune conditions (including psoriasis), IBD will flare up at times and go into remission at other times. There is no cure for IBD, but there are a number of treatments that can help control symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

IBD and psoriasis
There are still many unknowns regarding both IBD and psoriasis. Healthcare researchers do not know the exact cause of either condition, or why some people have these conditions and others do not. What is known is that IBD is much more common among people who have psoriasis (compared to people who do not have psoriasis)—and IBD is even more common among patients who have both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

What is the connection between these two conditions? While research is still ongoing, the connection is believed to be genetic. Research has found several genetic mutations related to both psoriasis and IBD, which may make a person susceptible to both conditions by altering the way the immune system works. This idea is supported by the fact that both IBD and psoriasis tend to run in families.

Treating IBD and psoriasis
Though IBD and psoriasis are distinct diseases, and research is still exploring the ways in which they might be connected, there is already some overlap in treatment. Two biologic drugs are approved by the FDA for the treatment of psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and both types of IBD. Both are biologic treatments that work by suppressing part of the immune system in order to reduce inflammation. Not every patient responds to these biologic treatments, but there is hope that additional treatment options will become available as researchers learn more about psoriasis and IBD.

What you can do
If you have psoriasis, it is important to know about the potential health risks, and the symptoms of those health risks. Stick to your treatment plan, see your healthcare provider regularly and address any changes in how you are feeling and any new symptoms you’re experiencing.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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