What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder, is a chronic skin condition. It is characterized
by inflamed, red, raised areas that often develop into silvery scales on the scalp,
elbows, knees, and lower back. Psoriasis can also be associated with arthritis. It is
estimated to affect 7.5 million people in the U.S.
What causes psoriasis?
The cause of psoriasis is unknown; however, it is thought to be caused by abnormally
fast-growing and shedding skin cells. The skin cells multiply quickly. This causes
the skin to shed every 3 to 4 days. This may be caused by a trigger, such as injury,
sunburn, certain classes of medicines, infection, stress, alcohol, or tobacco. Though
not contagious, the condition is hereditary. Psoriasis often returns and can be more
severe one time than another.
What are the symptoms of psoriasis?
The following are the most common symptoms of psoriasis. Psoriasis comes in several
forms and severities. Symptoms may include:
Plaque psoriasis. This type of psoriasis is the most common. Symptoms may include patches of red, raised
skin on the trunk, arms, legs, knees, elbows, genitals, and scalp. Nails may also
thicken, become pitted, and separate from the nail beds.
Guttate psoriasis. This type of psoriasis affects mostly children. Symptoms may include many small spots
of red, raised skin. A sore throat usually proceeds the onset of this type of psoriasis.
Pustular psoriasis. Symptoms may include small pustules (pus-containing blisters) all over the body or
just on the palms, soles, and other small areas.
The symptoms of psoriasis may look like other skin conditions. Always talk with your
healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is psoriasis diagnosed?
When the condition progresses to the development of silvery scales, the healthcare
provider can usually diagnose psoriasis with a medical exam of the nails and skin.
Confirmation of diagnosis may be done with a skin biopsy (taking a small skin specimen
to examine under a microscope).
Treatment for psoriasis
Specific treatment for psoriasis will be discussed with you by your healthcare provider
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Severity of the condition
Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation and slow down the rapid growth and
shedding of skin cells. At the present time, there is no cure for psoriasis. Treatment
Ointments and creams (to moisturize the skin)
Sunlight or ultraviolet light exposure (under a healthcare provider's supervision)
Topical steroid creams
Vitamin D cream
Creams containing salicylic acid or coal tar
Anthralin. An anti-inflammatory drug that treats the thicker, hard-to-treat patches
Oral or topical retinoids
Immunosuppressive medicines (such as cyclosporine or methotrexate)
Newer injectable biologic medicines
There is no known way to prevent psoriasis. Although it is a lifelong condition, it
often can be controlled with appropriate treatment. Keeping the skin clean and moist,
and avoiding person-specific psoriasis triggers (excessive stress, for example) may
help decrease flare-ups.