It felt like just a moment ago you were enjoying dinner with your wife, and now you're flat on your back rolling into emergency surgery.
You've had a massive heart attack... and you're completely blindsided.
The thing is, until today, you thought you were pretty healthy. You even had your blood pressure and cholesterol checked recently, and both were fine.
But you might have missed a bright red warning flag on your skin...
Most people probably don't think of skin giving any warning signs of a heart attack. To be honest, we don't pay nearly enough attention to our body's biggest organ. But we should.
Skin is our protector – a first line of defense against bacteria, chemicals, and radiation. It regulates our temperature and produces vitamin D. It's also one of the earliest indicators for inflammatory diseases... like those that could lead to a heart attack.
In the past, we've told our readers to keep an eye on their skin. You should be aware of any moles or spots that are asymmetrical, have changed size or shape, or have an odd color. Those are markers of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is just one type of disease that is affecting your defensive organ. And more folks than you might think have a problem with their skin. According to numbers from the American Academy of Dermatology, about 50% of folks age 65 and older have at least one skin disease.
One of the diseases is plaque psoriasis. Eight million Americans suffer from it, which usually involves itchy, painful lesions of skin that pop up when triggered. This is plaque psoriasis. For some folks, a recent illness can cause flare ups, as can stress or cold weather.
These lesions are the telltale sign, but some psoriasis presents itself as red bumps or a rash instead. Psoriasis can also lead to psoriatic arthritis, which can cause permanent damage if left untreated.
We still don't know what causes psoriasis. It has a strong genetic component, and many researchers believe it's a type of immune disorder. What we do know is that it's tied to many other diseases, and it increases your risk of heart disease.
If you have any skin issues, here are the most common symptoms of psoriasis:
- Raised patches of red skin. Area may be inflamed and sore
- Think pitting (little dimples) in your fingers and toe nails
- Dry skin that cracks and bleeds
- Itchy skin patches (around the lesions)
- Swollen, stiff, or painful joints
- Peeling skin
One of the biggest issues with psoriasis is its link to other diseases. Since it's linked to our immune system, it often signals higher risks for things like diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. What's more, folks with psoriasis have a higher risk for depression, too.
That's why a diagnosis is important, but it can be tricky. Many skin diseases look similar to one another. Eczema, for instance, can look like psoriasis. And if your psoriasis appears as a rash without the white, patchy lesions, it's easy to dismiss it as a simple allergic reaction or heat rash.
If you find any of these symptoms, be sure to get them checked. And take the time to go to a dermatologist. They have specific training to identify the true cause of any skin problems. Just be aware that for a psoriasis diagnosis, you may need a biopsy. That involves removing a small sample of the affected skin to test under the microscope. If you have psoriasis, there are several types of medicated creams (some over-the-counter) for treatment, but it will depend on the type of psoriasis. That's another reason a diagnosis is so important.
Here are a few ways to avoid potential triggers for psoriasis:
Avoid cold, dry weather. It's easy to forget this in the heat of summer, but as we get closer to fall, start practicing common sense. Whenever the temperature dips down or it's especially dry, limit your time outdoors.
Use moisture. Keep a humidifier in your bedroom to use while you sleep (remember, you spend about a third of your life in bed!). And lotion up to keep your skin moisturized and healthy. This will help avoid cracking. My researcher is prone to cracked skin when she washes her hands too frequently (like during cold and flu season), so she keeps lotion right at her desk and some in her bathroom.
Keep your immune system healthy. Wash your hands regularly, but avoid antibacterial soaps. They aren't any more effective than regular soap and water. Plus, they contribute to superbugs, which we warned you about on Friday.
Plenty of sleep keeps your immune system strong, as does eating well. Load up on antioxidants in fruit and veggies. And even add in a probiotic. You can take a pill or make fermented foods part of your diet – we're talking about yogurt and kimchi, not beer.
Fight stress. Since stress is a big trigger for most immune-related disorders, it's vital to our overall health to get it under control. Movement helps – go for a walk, try some tai chi, enjoy a jog around the neighborhood. Take time each day to unplug. Being tuned into electronics so much raises our cortisol levels (that's the stress hormone). And give meditation a try. It can calm your stress levels in just 10 minutes a day.
Do you have other tips for managing psoriasis? Let us know at [email protected].
What We're Reading...
- In case you missed it... Don't fall prey to this agonizing pain.
- It's National Psoriasis Awareness Month. How much do you know about this disease?
- Something different: Sorry interstitium, but the skin really still is the largest organ.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 6, 2019