Definition and Overview

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease characterized by white, silver, or red scaly thick patches in different parts of the body especially on the feet, lower back, knees, elbows, hands, and scalp. This non-contagious disease typically occurs during adulthood, but there have been cases in children and teenagers. This skin condition, which is triggered by environmental factors, as well as immune attack by abnormal lymphocytes and overactive immune system, is thought to be caused by rapid proliferation of skin cells. Psoriasis can be mild, moderate, or severe. While patients with mild cases barely notice the symptoms, those who suffer from severe cases have thick, red, and scaly skin all over their body.

Recent studies have shown that people with psoriasis are at an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

Causes

The exact cause of psoriasis is still unknown. Experts believe that the disease is hereditary. Patients with family history of psoriasis have a significantly increased risk of getting the disease. Studies confirm that a child with both parents having psoriasis has a 50 percent chance of developing the skin condition.

However, they are yet to establish if genetic factors are the only ones that cause the flare-ups. More doctors believe that psoriasis is caused by an overactive immune system that results in new skin developing faster than usual. As the old layer of skin takes more time to shed off, a build-up occurs and results in thick, scaly patches.

Other factors that trigger it include injury to the skin, direct exposure to sunlight, HIV, certain drugs such as beta-blockers, and streptococcal infections. It may also be triggered by hormonal changes, alcohol, smoking, and emotional stress.

Symptoms

Psoriasis appears as thick scaly patches of red, white, or silver that develop anywhere on the body. The appearance of psoriasis differs according to its type:

  • Psoriasis vulgaris is characterized by reddish skin plaque with a silver scale on top. This makes the skin itchy and, in some instances, causes enormous pain.

  • Guttate psoriasis is described as small red scaly plaques on any part of the body.

  • Inverse psoriasis has patches mostly found in the armpit, groin, breast area, genitals, and buttocks. Although it doesn’t result to scales, it causes red inflammation on the skin.

  • Pustular psoriasis is one of the most painful types and is characterized by yellowish blisters filled with pus.

  • Psoriasis can also develop on the scalp. Commonly mistaken for dandruff, the patches appear as red scaly flakes on the skin.

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

Psoriasis in its early stages may affect only the skin. However, as it progresses, it can also affect the joints and internal organs.

If you suspect you have psoriasis, consult a general physician who can perform a skin examination. Sometimes doctors may need to obtain a sample for biopsy. Depending on the severity of the disease, your GP may refer you to specialists including:

  • Dermatologist who specializes in skin diseases
  • Rheumatologist if your psoriasis is affecting your joints
  • Pathologist who monitors the development of Psoriasis
  • Internist if the condition affects vital organs
  • Nutritionist who provides a diet plan in order to control the disease

It’s easier to treat psoriasis when it hasn’t yet spread over a wider area. Many products like creams and lotions can help prevent it from spreading and control the symptoms. Steroids are commonly prescribed as the first line of defense, but they are not recommended for long-term application because of their side effects.

If the psoriasis has already spread, the doctor may prescribe different medications as well as immune system boosters. Phototherapy using ultraviolet light may also be utilized. Brief periods of sun exposure can also help manage the condition.

If the psoriasis occurs on the scalp or in the fingernails, oral medications are often prescribed. However, if it has started to affect internal organs or the joints, the treatment will be based on the affected area.

Psoriasis can affect a person psychologically. If you feel that the disease has become too much of a burden and that your daily activities, including socializing with friends or other people, have been greatly affected, you may need to see a psychologist to help deal with the condition emotionally.

Finding the right treatment plan is tricky since people respond differently to available methods. Thus, you’re strongly advised to monitor your progress and work closely with your doctor.

There’s no cure for the disease at this time, but you can prevent flare-ups by staying away from triggers such as stress, alcohol, infection, and skin injuries.

Resources:

  • National Psoriasis Foundation
  • The Psoriasis Association
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