The Health Risks of Genital Psoriasis

How genital psoriasis puts you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and more.

Medically reviewed in February 2021

It's estimated that more than 125 million people worldwide, or between 2 and 3 percent of the population, have some form of psoriasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to grow at a faster rate than normal, which results in lesions on the surface of the skin.

The majority of people with psoriasis have plaque psoriasis, where the lesions present as patches of red, scaly skin. However, depending on what type of psoriasis a person has, the lesions can look like small red dots, pustules or patches of bright red skin. It is possible to have more than one type of psoriasis at a given time.

Psoriasis can appear on any part of the body, including the genitals, and some research has shown that genital psoriasis is not uncommon. Some people may only have genital psoriasis, while the skin on the rest of the body is clear.

Health risks of genital psoriasis
Genital psoriasis is a condition that can affect many aspects of a person’s life. People with genital psoriasis describe discomfort from pain, itching, scaling and burning. They also describe numerous ways it impacts everyday life—they may avoid sexual relationships, avoid physical activities, feel embarrassed and stigmatized, and struggle with emotions, sleep and mental health, including depression.

Additionally, some research has shown that people with psoriasis are at an increased risk of several other health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and being overweight or obese, as well as others.

Reducing health risks
Genital psoriasis can be more challenging to treat than other forms of psoriasis. The location of the skin lesions—on areas that are susceptible to irritation from underwear, toilet paper, sweat and chafing—can make it more difficult to control. And some psoriasis treatments that are safe to use on other areas of the body (such as the knees and elbows) can damage the thin, delicate skin of the genitals. Though it can be difficult to discuss, even with a healthcare provider, it is important to seek treatment for genital psoriasis. Even if you are being treated for psoriasis on another location in the body, your healthcare provider needs to know about all your symptoms in order to address them properly.

In addition to working with a dermatologist to address psoriasis symptoms, it is important to see your primary care physician on a regular basis to monitor other aspects of your health, and to address any symptoms of early warning signs of diseases like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

While psoriasis puts you at a greater risk for these other health conditions, there are still steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include:

  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products, and if you do, quit. Smoking can make psoriasis symptoms worse, and is also associated with psoriasis itself.
  • Stay active and exercise regularly.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid alcohol, which has been known to worsen or trigger psoriasis symptoms.
  • Take steps to lower or manage stress, whether it’s setting aside time for an activity you enjoy, meditating or finding a support group for people with the same condition.
  • Address any mental or emotional struggles you’re experiencing, such as depression, sleep disturbances or low self-esteem.

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