Psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder, is a painful, itchy, and persistent skin condition that impacts about 3% percent of the population. Plaque psoriasis, the most common kind, usually results in patches of thick, scaly skin on the elbows, knees, scalp, and/or lower torso. However, psoriasis can occur almost anywhere on the body. Both hereditary and environmental factors contribute to the development and severity of the illness. Medical experts believe it mainly occurs when skin cells multiply too quickly. It is not contagious.
Psoriasis symptoms often follow cyclical patterns. People may experience flare-ups followed by periods of improvement or remission.
Symptoms vary according to the type psoriasis, but the most common symptoms are:
- Skin plaques and rashes
- Dry, itchy, cracked skin, which may bleed
- Patches of red or silvery-white scales
- Itching, burning and soreness
- Cyclic rashes that last for a few weeks or months before subsiding
- Small scaling spots (usually seen in children)
There are several types of psoriasis. The frequency and severity of symptoms vary from one type to another.
- Plaque psoriasis. Causes red, raised, scaly areas, most commonly affecting the elbows, knees, scalp, and/or torso. About 80% to 90% of people with psoriasis develop plaque psoriasis.
- Nail psoriasis. Causes nail and skin discoloration as well as changes in texture.
- Guttate psoriasis. May show up after a case of strep throat or some other infection and most often affects children and young adults. It appears as tiny, red, scaly patches — often on the torso, legs, and arms.
- Inverse psoriasis. Develops in the folds of the skin. It leads to smooth, red patches.
- Pustular psoriasis. Causes the formation of pustules — small pus-filled bumps — possibly surrounded by red skin. These may form on the hands and feet, or other parts of the body, or cover much of the body. This type of psoriasis can be life-threatening.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis. Causes discoloration and flaking of the skin on a large scale (at least 90% of the body). It is the rarest and most severe type of psoriasis and requires immediate medical attention.
Causes And Triggers
Although the exact cause is unknown, studies point to issues with the immune system. There is a 50% chance that a child will develop psoriasis if both parents have it. The child has a 10% chance if just one parent has psoriasis.
Normally, new skin cells reproduce in the dermis, the skin’s lowest layer. These new cells work their way to the skin’s surface. After about 28 days, they die and peel off.
In psoriatic patients, the immune system causes the body to make skin cells too quickly. The natural process that should take weeks takes only days, and skin cells pile up on the skin’s surface. This results in dry, scaly patches of skin and the other manifestations.
Common triggers for psoriasis include:
- Smoking, and secondhand smoke
- Excessive alcohol use
- Skin injuries
- Cold, dry weather
- Certain medications like lithium, strong corticosteroids, and drugs for malaria and high blood pressure
- Rapid withdrawal of injected or oral corticosteroids
Risk Factors and Complications
The condition of psoriasis increases your likelihood of developing major complications, such as:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Heart attack or stroke
- Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune diseases
- Eye conditions
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Kidney or liver disease
- Metabolic syndrome
There are many ways to treat this skin condition. Some doctors advise patients to use more than one approach.
- Topical therapy. Physicians often treat psoriasis with creams and ointments such as topical corticosteroids. The goal is to decrease inflammation and minimize itching.
- Light therapy. Light treatment can reduce the rapid reproduction of skin cells. This, in turn, diminishes the buildup of plaque.
- Oral or injected medications. Drugs are often prescribed when topical medicines or light treatments have failed.
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Psoriasis, like all rheumatic diseases, can be a serious hindrance to your normal daily life. Our Department of Rheumatology is here to help ease your symptoms and provide relief so you can get back to doing the things you love.
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