People who suffer from psoriasis, a skin disorder characterized by red, itchy patches, may be more prone to heart attacks, researchers say.

The link seemed to be particularly strong among young adults with severe cases of the skin disorder, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania report in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For example, a 30-year-old patient with mild psoriasis had a 29 per cent greater risk of having a heart attack than someonewithout psoriasis, dermatology professor Dr. Joel Gelfand and his colleagues concluded after adjusting for major cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and smoking.

Psoriasis, heart attacks and atherosclerosis or blockages in the arteries are all associated with high levels with increased levels of C-reactive protein— a marker of inflamed arteries.

The researchers compared the risk of heart attack among more than 130,000 people in the United Kingdom aged 20 to 90 with psoriasis to more than 500,000 controls who were followed for an average of five years.

General practitioners, who were unaware of the purpose of the study, collected the information.

"The magnitude of association between severe psoriasis and [heart attack] in those patients younger than 50 years is similar to the magnitude of association for other major cardiac risk factors," the study's authors wrote.

The findings suggest that one of 623 people with severe psoriasis in their 40s will have a heart attack related to the skin condition each year, Gelfand said. For mild cases, there would be one in 3,646 heart attacks for the same age group.

It's important to determine whether inflammation markers such as C-reactive protein or if the amount of body surface area affected by psoriasis affect heart attack risk, the researchers said.

The findingsneed to be confirmed before determining whether the results have therapeutic implications, they cautioned.

"In the meantime, as part of good medical care, patients with psoriasis should be encouraged to aggressively address their modifiable cardiovascular risk factors," such as quitting smoking, losing excess weight and controlling cholesterol levels, the researchers suggest.

Psoriasis is a chronic disease that affects about three per cent of adults. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder in which the body makes too many skin cells, which form red patches with thick, silvery scales.

Psoriasis can also trigger damage to the joints. It is treated with creams and ultraviolet light.

The studywas partly funded with a grant from the maker of a psoriasis drug, and two of the study's six authorsreported financial ties to companies investigating psoriasistreatments.

With files from the Associated Press