What is Psoriasis?

What is Psoriasis?

What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself.

This causes skin cells to grow too quickly, resulting in the formation of scaly patches that are either red or silvery white.

These patches can show up on any part of the body, but they usually appear on the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back.

The severity of psoriasis differs from one person to another.

Some people can get it mildly, while others may develop severe cases that will require medical treatment.

Psoriasis is not contagious.

This means that it cannot be spread from one person to another.

Psoriasis is not curable, but there are ways to control and manage the disease.

About 1% to 3% of the population has psoriasis, and it is more common in men than women.

People who have relatives with psoriasis are more likely to get the disease themselves.

What are the Symptoms of Psoriasis?

Symptoms of psoriasis are typically different among all people who have the disease.

Symptoms may include:

  • Reddish patches covered with silvery scales on elbows, knees, scalp, and trunk (upper back and stomach)
  • Dry, cracked skin that may bleed
  • Itching, scaling, or severe burning sensations on affected areas
  • Joint pain without redness or swelling
  • Fingers that are swollen at the tips (called dactylitis), which can severely affect that may bleed or itch

Types of psoriasis

There are several types of psoriasis:

Plaque psoriasis

Plaque psoriasis is the most common form, which involves red patches covered with silvery scales that may itch or burn.

These patches are usually found on the back of the elbows, knees, scalp, and trunk (upper back and stomach), as well as rashes elsewhere on the body.

Guttate psoriasis

Guttate psoriasis involves small, drop-shaped lesions on the trunk, arms, and legs that may itch or burn.

These typically occur following a bacterial infection such as strep throat or scarlet fever.

Inverse psoriasis

Inverse psoriasis, where red patches are found in body folds under the breastbone, armpits, in the groin, beneath the buttocks, or on an infant’s diaper area.

Pustular psoriasis

Pustular psoriasis involves widespread pus-filled blisters that often itch.

This type of psoriasis is rare and occurs mainly in adults.

It usually clears up quickly with treatment.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a form of joint inflammation and swelling (arthritis), which typically occurs with psoriasis affecting the nails and/or skin.

According to National Psoriasis Foundation, 1 in 3 people with psoriasis may develop psoriatic arthritis.

Erythrodermic psoriasis

Erythrodermic psoriasis is a rare form that involves a widespread reddening of the skin that often leads to peeling and blistering of the skin.

Nail psoriasis

Nail psoriasis can affect nail growth, tone, and texture.

Who gets psoriasis?

Anyone can get psoriasis, but it most commonly develops between the ages of 15 and 35.

Psoriasis is not contagious, but it can run in families.

For instance, if one of your parents has psoriasis, there’s a 15% chance you’ll get it, too.

If both parents have psoriasis, the chance goes up to 50 to 75%.

What causes psoriasis?

The root cause of psoriasis is currently unknown.

However, researchers believe that it is the result of an overactive immune system and a T-cell defect.

A “T-cell defect” is where the immune system fails to recognize healthy cells and instead attacks them.

An “overactive immune system” can be caused by many factors such as genetics, stress, smoking, and infections.

Genetics

The tendency for psoriasis to develop in families suggests that genetics may play a role in its development.

However, researchers still do not know which genes can cause psoriasis and why some people develop psoriasis while others with the same genetic makeup do not.

Stress

Psoriasis may flare due to emotional stress such as an accident or the loss of a loved one.

The flare may be due to the release of certain chemicals in the body that triggers inflammation and skin cell production.

Smoking

Smoking has been shown to trigger psoriasis or make it flare more severely.

Infections

Infections may cause the immune system of some people with psoriasis to malfunction.

This malfunction can result in psoriasis symptoms.

Common Triggers for Psoriasis Flare-ups

Identifying trigger factors can help prevent psoriasis flares.

Common psoriasis triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Physical trauma
  • Insect bites
  • Poison ivy or poison oak
  • Changes in climate, i.e., cold or dry weather
  • Skin injuries, including cuts and burns
  • Infections such as strep throat or urinary tract infections
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Dietary factors such as fatty foods, dairy products, and sugar may also play a role in psoriasis flare-ups.
  • Some medications, including beta-blockers, lithium, phenytoin (Dilantin), antimalarials, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and iodides

How is psoriasis diagnosed?

Psoriasis can usually be diagnosed based on physical examination alone.

However, to make sure you have psoriasis, the doctor may also examine your nails and skin for signs of psoriatic arthritis.

To rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms (such as fungal or bacterial infections), your doctor may order blood tests.

Treatment of Psoriasis

There is no cure for psoriasis, but treatments are available that can help relieve symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.

These treatments include:

Topical creams or ointments that contain corticosteroids, vitamin D analogs (calcipotriol), or tazarotene.

If these treatments do not work, then phototherapy is an option.

Phototherapy involves sitting in a booth where dermatologists use ultraviolet (UV) light to treat psoriasis.

Drugs that target the immune system are called systemic treatments.

The most common of these are methotrexate, acitretin, cyclosporine, and biologics such as alefacept.

If psoriasis becomes severe, then medications used for rheumatoid arthritis can be used.

What will happen if psoriasis is not treated?

If left untreated, psoriasis may worsen over time.

It can also cause speech problems or blindness if it affects the eyes.

If psoriasis becomes severe, you may develop other serious complications such as:

  • Arthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Kidney disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Depression

People with severe forms of psoriasis are more likely to die at an earlier age than those without it.

All cases are different.

However, people with psoriasis often have flare-ups followed by periods of remission.

These episodes can last anywhere from days to months or years.

As mentioned, psoriasis is a long-term autoimmune condition that can’t be cured.

So treatment is aimed to reduce symptoms and control flare-ups.

Most people with psoriasis can expect to live normal, productive lives if they receive treatment and follow their doctor’s advice.

How do you get psoriasis to go away?

There is no known way to completely “cure” psoriasis.

However, the good news is that with some self-care measures and medical treatment, most people find that their psoriasis symptoms can be controlled and even go away.

To help control your psoriasis:

  • Avoid stress as much as possible.
  • Reduce or eliminate nicotine and alcohol from your diet and life (smoking and drinking make your skin dry and worsen psoriasis).
  • If possible, take a cool or lukewarm shower or bath instead of using very hot water.
  • Wearing light clothing that lets the air circulate around your skin may help reduce itching.
  • Your dermatologist may recommend special compresses to use in the bath or shower.
  • Wash your body with mild soap and water or a cleanser that is made for the area of skin affected by psoriasis (avoid scratchy washcloths and loofahs).
  • Your dermatologist may suggest using a moisturizing lotion, such as one containing alpha-hydroxy acid or urea, to make your skin less itchy.

If you can identify the source of the flare-up, try to avoid putting yourself in that situation again in the future.

In addition, when flare-ups occur, it is important not to scratch the affected areas.

Scratching any part of your skin that has a psoriasis breakout can cause scarring and also trigger another psoriasis outbreak in unaffected parts of the body.

The Takeaway

Psoriasis is a skin condition where the skin cells grow too quickly.

It causes patches of thick, red, scaly skin that tend to be itchy and burn.

There is no known cure for psoriasis, but treatments are available to help relieve symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.

If you have psoriasis, it is important to avoid stress and take measures to control your symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.