Genetics and the immune system both play important roles in causing psoriasis. Psoriasis is an immune system disorder that causes patches of skin to become red, swollen, and scaly. The outside of the elbows, knees and scalp are most commonly affected, although psoriasis can happen anywhere on the body. In some people, psoriasis can be painful, and can cause itching or a burning sensation in the affected areas.
Although psoriasis can start at any age, it typically occurs between ages 15 and 35. Researchers don’t know why certain individuals get psoriasis, but the theory is that the disease is transmitted genetically. Some people are born with the potential to develop psoriasis, and at a certain point in life an environmental factor triggers the condition. Roughly three percent of the population has psoriasis.
Wellness & Prevention
Psoriasis is a chronic condition that can be managed but not cured. People who suffer from the disease have periods of time with no symptoms, interrupted by flare-ups. A flare-up is when the skin erupts in an outbreak. Several things are known to cause outbreaks, so avoiding these triggers can help reduce flare-ups.
When it comes to psoriasis, treating yourself with tender loving care can go a long way in minimizing symptoms. Dry skin is the enemy. Keeping skin well-moisturized with creams and lotions can help prevent an outbreak. Using a humidifier is also a good idea. Climate plays a big role in psoriasis. Cold, dry weather can trigger a flare-up, and hot weather often makes psoriasis better. Moderate doses of sunlight are helpful in keeping psoriatic skin happy, but be sure to use sunscreen. Sunburns can cause an outbreak.
Any trauma to the skin can cause a flare-up. From minor scrapes and bumps to insect bites and infections, special care should be taken to minimize these triggers. People with psoriasis should avoid tattoos and acupuncture.
Lifestyle factors can be controlled to help manage psoriasis. A reduction in stress has shown to result in fewer flare-ups, and a healthy weight is key to keeping outbreaks down. Certain medications can aggravate psoriasis, so check with your doctor before taking any prescription medicine. Smoking and excessive alcohol use are also linked to outbreaks, and are best avoided.
Psoriasis can increase the risk of other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. An active lifestyle and healthy diet can lower these risks and can also help to control psoriasis.
There are a number of types of psoriasis that can be diagnosed:
- Plaque Psoriasis: This is the most common form of psoriasis, with flare-ups typically occurring on the scalp, knees, elbows and lower back. It manifests as raised, red, scaly patches of skin called plaques. The affected skin is often painful or itchy and can crack and bleed. For minor cases of plaque psoriasis, over-the-counter medications can help control the condition.
- Guttate: This is the second most common form of the disease. Small, dot-like spots across the skin signify an outbreak of guttate psoriasis. It often begins in childhood or young adulthood. Onset of guttate psoriasis can first be triggered by strep infection.
- Inverse: Inverse psoriasis affects the parts of the body where skin rubs against skin. This includes the under the arms, the inner thighs, groin or beneath the breast. People who suffer from inverse psoriasis often have another type of psoriasis as well.
- Pustular: A less common form of psoriasis, this is named for the blisters of pus that form during an outbreak. The skin surrounding the white pustules is red. Like all other forms of the disease, pustular psoriasis is not an infection and is not contagious. It can occur anywhere on the body but most typically appears on the hands or feet.
- Erythrodermic: This is a very rare and severe form of the disorder that can occur in people who have unstable plaque psoriasis. This type is characterized by widespread inflammation and can cause the skin to shed. A flare-up is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
- Psoriatic Arthritis: This occurs in people that already have another form of psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis can affect joint anywhere on the body. Flare-ups can range from mild to severe, causing pain, stiffness and inflammation.
There is no cure for psoriasis. Treatments are aimed at reducing outbreaks and minimizing symptoms.
Over-the-counter or prescription creams or preparations are typically the first line of defense when diagnosed with psoriasis.
Light therapy can be administered under medical supervision. The skin is exposed to ultraviolet light from a phototherapy unit. Repeated sessions are necessary for the treatment to be effective.
These prescription drugs target the entire immune system. They are given to people with moderate to severe psoriasis and are taken orally or via injection.
Biologic drugs are prescribed for moderate to severe types of psoriasis. The treatment is often used when psoriasis has not responded to more conservative treatments. Biologics are administered by injection or IV infusion, and are designed to target specific parts of the immune system. Biologics are also the most effective medications for psoriatic arthritis.
The primary concern with psoriasis is managing the disease. Once an outbreak has been treated and the symptoms have subsided, the focus is on minimizing future flare-ups. Scarring is fairly rare in psoriasis as long as plaques aren’t scratched.