If you or someone in your family has psoriasis, you are probably aware of how difficult this condition can be to live with — and also maybe curious to learn more about what psoriasis is and how to manage it. Read on to learn more!
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin condition which is can last a long time (or even a lifetime) but which often will come and go in a pattern of exacerbation (where signs and symptoms become very obvious) and remission (where signs and symptoms can disappear altogether).
There are many different kinds of psoriasis, including:
- Plaque psoriasis. This is the most common kind of psoriasis and causes patches of red skin with silver scales which can be intensely itchy.
- Guttate psoriasis. This causes small red spots to appear all over the body and happens most often in children or young adults, usually after another infection like strep throat.
- Pustular psoriasis. Pustular psoriasis causes pus-filled blisters to appear on the hands and feet.
- Inverse psoriasis. This kind of psoriasis happens to areas of the body where skin touches skin, such as the groin and upper thighs, under breasts and armpits. Skin can be bright red and itchy.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis. This is the least common but a very serious form of psoriasis and can lead to a red, burned-looking rash as well as symptoms like weakness, an increased heartbeat, intense pain and itching and fever. People have this kind of attack need to be taken to the hospital for treatment because this can be life-threatening.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Psoriasis?
Signs and symptoms of psoriasis may vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. These can include:
- Skin problems that can appear as bright red patchy, silver scales, pus-filled blisters, dry cracks or small red dots
- Pain or soreness
- Fever, body ache or chills
- Fatigue or weakness.
- Easily cracking, crumbly or discolored nails
These symptoms may come and go or be fairly consistent and can last for a long time or even for a lifetime. Not everyone with psoriasis will have all these symptoms.
What Causes Psoriasis?
The cause of psoriasis is not completely understood. However, most researchers believe that it happens with white blood cells, an important part of the immune system, attack skin cells thinking that they are foreign bodies like bacteria or viruses. This, however, causes the body to respond by making skin cells faster than it normally does. Those skin cells build up on surface of the skin and are responsible for many of the signs and symptoms of this condition.
There are a number of factors which do not cause psoriasis but can provoke a psoriasis attack. These factors are known as triggers and while they vary from one person to another, the most common triggers include:
- Skin injuries like cuts, burns or other trauma
- Other infections from bacteria or viruses
- Feelings of stress or anxiety
- Smoking or being around cigarette smoke
- Some medications like those used for heart conditions or to treat malaria
Who is at Risk for Psoriasis?
While anyone can get psoriasis, there are certain risk factors that make getting this condition more likely. These include:
- Having family members with this condition
- A recent history of infections like strep throat
- Use of cigarettes or alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
The biggest risk factor here, though, is definitely a family history and many doctors believe that there is probably a genetic component to this condition.
Can Psoriasis Cause Complications?
Unfortunately, having psoriasis can cause a number of conditions — many of them serious. These complications include:
- Psoriatic arthritis. Many patients who have psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis, a condition which can lead to pain, swelling and even permanent deformity of the joints.
- Chronic conditions. Though it is not always clear why, psoriasis can increase your risk of being overweight and developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders (like rheumatoid arthritis), and disease of the kidney and liver.
- Emotional/social problems. Because of its disfiguring appearance, psoriasis can also cause people to feel depressed, socially isolated or to develop low self esteem.
How do You Diagnose and Treat Psoriasis?
The good news is that physicians – -especially those experienced with psoriasis — will often be able to diagnose this condition by visual examination alone. Many times, though, a skin sample will be taken during the course of a biopsy and sent to the lab for analysis.
The one problem with psoriasis is that is can sometimes resemble other skin conditions and this can sometimes make it take longer for a diagnosis to be made.
Psoriasis can be difficult to treat and people who have it can suffer from flare-ups in between periods of having no symptoms at all. These treatments can include:
- Topical medications which contain steroids, vitamin A or D or salicylic acid which can reduce inflammation and slow down the rate at which skin cells reproduce.
- Coal tar, one of the oldest known treatments for psoriasis, can help reduce inflammation and reducing the appearance of scales.
- Oral medications which work to reduce inflammation throughout the body, suppress the immune system or slow down the rate at which skin cells reproduce. These can include methotrexate or cyclosporine.
- Phototherapy, which exposes the affected area to different forms of natural or artificial light.
- Lifestyle changes like stress management, use of moisturizers and avoiding known triggers.
So when it comes to psoriasis, the news is mixed. On the one hand, it can be a condition which can be difficult to live with and lead to a number of serious chronic condition. However, because of advancements in technology and a better knowledge of self-care techniques, patients have a greater number of choices than ever to help manage this condition.