Psoriasis is defined in the literature as a chronic autoimmune skin disease characterized by partial remissions and exacerbations. Most people who have psoriasis will experience skin inflammation with redness, irritation, itching and dry silvery scales of dead skin which flake. Psoriasis is more common than most of us realize with an estimate given by The National Institutes of Health that as many as 7.5 million Americans suffer from this skin disease. If you or your loved one has recently been diagnosed with psoriasis, there are some things you should know.
1. Psoriasis occurs more often in Caucasians than other races. While people of any age can have this skin disease, it shows up most commonly in young adults. Onset usually occurs between the ages of 15 and 35.
2. Heredity does seem to play a part in who gets Psoriasis so if you suffer from this skin condition, you may have a family member who has it as well.
3. If you or your loved one has Psoriasis, you need not worry that it is contagious. You cannot give this disease to someone else.
4. The National Psoriasis Foundation provides an estimate that up to 30 percent of the people who suffer from Psoriasis may also develop psoriatic arthritis . This type of arthritis can cause pain and swelling in joints, especially in fingers, toes, and even the neck, lower back, knees and ankles. Psoriatic arthritis affects more men than women and the age of onset is usually between thirty and fifty years of age. It is critical to diagnose this type of arthritis early so that it does not progress to where it is disabling.
5. You can get Psoriasis anywhere on your body but typically you will see skin lesions and scales of dead skin on the elbows, knees, scalp, trunk or even fingernails. If it spreads to the fingernails you will see indentations and yellow or brown discoloration. In severe cases the nail can actually separate from the nail bed if left untreated.
6. Psoriasis is usually diagnosed by a dermatologist based upon patient history, the appearance of lesions or plaques, and sometimes through skin biopsy. To find a dermatologist or rheumatologist (if you have psoriatic arthritis) the National Psoriasis Foundation has a physician directory based upon your geographic location.
7. Psoriasis has now been linked to other diseases and medical conditions that you need to be aware of. My Skin Care Connection cites a study which shows that individuals with Psoriasis are more at risk to have a heart attack or stroke. The explanation offered is that the chronic inflammation of psoriasis causes damage to blood vessels which can then lead to a higher risk for heart problems. In addition people having psoriasis may be at more risk for inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes. It is strongly recommended that you discuss the possibility for having any of these co-morbid conditions with your doctor.
8. While the triggers for a psoriasis flare are unique for every individual, there are some common triggers listed in the literature and these include: Stress, injury or trauma to the skin (vaccinations, sunburns and scratches), smoking, alcohol, pregnancy, endocrine changes, cold weather, and bacterial and viral infections. Psoriasis may be most severe for those who have suppressed immune systems like people who have AIDS , are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, or who have another autoimmune disorder.
9. There are some medications which can trigger or exacerbate a psoriasis flare up and these include: Lithium (used commonly to treat Bipolar Disorder), Antimalarials, Inderal (used to treat high blood pressure), Quinidine (a heart medication), Indomethacin (used to treat arthritis), and some beta blockers. 10. While there is no cure for psoriasis, there is treatment to manage the condition. For mild cases topical medications may be uses such as corticosteroids, antibiotics or antifungals. For more severe cases phototherapy may be used. Please see my article, "Hope for Psoriasis patients with Ultra Violet Light " for more information. Medication such as Enbrel is also prescribed for severe psoriasis as it reportedly targets the cause of the disease on a cellular level. Just recently a new drug called Stelara was reported by the National Institutes of Health as being more effective than Enbrel to improve severe cases of psoriasis.
Remember that if you have psoriasis, you are not alone. There is information, support, and treatment available. For more information please visit My Skin Care Connection's Psoriasis Information and Resource page.
References and Resources:
Barankin, B. & Freiman, A. (2006). Derm Notes . Philadelphiam PA: F.A. Davis Company
Lippincott, W. et al (Eds.) (2009). Professional Guide to Diseases: Ninth Edition . Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer