Psoriasis

Psoriasis Introduction

Psoriasis is estimated to affect 80 to 120 million people worldwide. It is a chronic skin condition, meaning that the disease remains even though symptoms may come and go. Psoriasis is characterized by patches of thick, red, inflamed skin and dry, silvery flakes of skin known as scales. Symptoms range in severity from barely noticeable to outbreaks of lesions that cover most of the body, and psoriasis even causes a form of arthritis in some people. The condition is not contagious, so it cannot spread from person to person. A better understanding of psoriasis causes, symptoms, and treatment will help both afflicted and non-afflicted people cope with the physical and emotional challenges of living with the condition.

What Causes Psoriasis?

While the actual cause of psoriasis is unknown, it is believed to result from genes that influence the immune response in the skin, possibly causing areas in which the immune system is inadvertently directed against the body’s own cells. Some people have a genetic makeup that makes it more likely to develop psoriasis than others, and about one third of the people with psoriasis also have a family member with the condition. Psoriasis can flare up at any time without any apparent cause, but it is often initiated or aggravated by specific triggers. Some examples of triggers known to aggravate psoriasis symptoms are listed on your screen.

How Psoriasis Arises

Researchers believe psoriasis results from inflammation and excessive skin cell production. In particular, T-cells, which are a particular type of white blood cell that aid the normal immune response, are activated unnecessarily. The T-cells are activated to such an extent that they influence a series of reactions that cause and maintain the inflammation while accelerating proliferation of skin cells. Skin cells normally take about a month to develop, mature, and move to the skin’s surface, where they are continually shed. During the heightened immune response that causes psoriasis, the skin cells mature in less than a week and move to the surface, where they accumulate, resulting in the formation of scales among the red, inflamed tissues.

Who Develops Psoriasis?

Psoriasis can affect all age groups, but it primarily affects adults. About three-quarters of people with the condition develop it before the age of 40, and only about one in ten develop it in their childhood years. Males and females are affected about equally. Psoriasis is most common in people of northern European descent, varies among other ethnicities, and is rare in Native Americans. More than half of the psoriasis cases are mild, covering less than 3% of the body, with fewer moderate cases, and severe cases that cover more than 10% of the body are the least common. Although people may inherit the genes that make them more likely to develop the disease, they may or may not develop psoriasis due to a wide variability in triggers, severity, and symptoms.

Psoriasis Symptoms

The inflamed, irritated areas, or lesions, associated with psoriasis are often associated with itching, pain, and bleeding between the cracks in the skin around affected joints. The degree of itching and pain can vary from minimal to extreme, which may cause problems sleeping and carrying out everyday tasks. Psoriasis patches can occur anywhere on the body, but they are found predominantly on the scalp, face, back, elbows, palms, legs, knees, and soles of the feet. Psoriasis may also cause pitting, discoloration, and deformation of fingernails and toenails. In about one in ten people with psoriasis, inflammation in the joints causes symptoms of arthritis, which can affect them at any age.

Types of Psoriasis

There are five main types of psoriasis that are commonly identified. Plaque psoriasis is the most common and accounts for about 80% of the symptoms in those with psoriasis. People typically have only one of the five types at a time, but some of the types will occasionally occur together. Please roll over each subtype of psoriasis for more information.

Psoriasis Diagnosis and Treatment

A dermatologist may take a small portion of skin, called a skin biopsy, for microscopic evaluation to help diagnose the type of psoriasis in order to determine the best treatment option. The variability in the disease means that each patient may respond to treatment differently, so a unique treatment may be chosen based on the type, location, severity of psoriasis, and medical history. In general, treatments fall into one of four general categories shown. Antibiotics are also used against secondary infections that may occur in open skin lesions. There is no cure for psoriasis, but the right combination of avoiding triggers and the correct use of a wide variety of treatment options may help alleviate symptoms between outbreaks.