There’s no clear-cut answer to why exactly a person has psoriasis, but it is known that both the immune system and genetics are significant factors.
When I received my plaque psoriasis diagnosis at age 14, I remember asking my parents if they knew anyone in our family who also had this disease. My mom thought one of her late aunts may have had it, but that was it. I’ve often wondered why the disease showed up when it did - my first dry, circle-shaped patch appeared on my ankle - because I thought perhaps knowing this would give me clues as to why I had this annoying, uncomfortable skin condition. But as other psoriasis patients will tell you, there’s generally no rhyme or reason to the timing of it, either; some of us get a diagnosis during childhood while others are well into adulthood.
Something is going on inside our bodies, at any rate, that somehow triggers psoriasis. Most researchers agree that the immune system is somehow mistakenly triggered, which causes a series of events including acceleration of skin cell growth. While a normal skin cell matures and falls off the body in 28 to 30 days, a skin cell in those of us with psoriasis takes only three to four days to mature. And, instead of falling off (or shedding, as it often feels like, unfortunately), the cells form layers on top of one another, forming psoriasis patches, or lesions.
I have learned that scientists believe that at least 10 percent of the general population inherits one or more of the genes that creates a predisposition to psoriasis. But only 2 to 3 percent of the population ever develops the disease, interestingly enough. Apparently this is because for a person to develop psoriasis, that individual must have a combination of the genes that cause the disease - and be exposed to specific external factors known as triggers. What that trigger may have been for me during my junior high years, I can’t be sure, though I do know that the summer following my diagnosis, a bad sunburn did morph into my first psoriasis flare. Indeed, sunburn and other injuries to the skin such as vaccinations, nicks and scratches all are triggers. There’s even a name for this: the Koebner [KEB-ner] phenomenon.
Another common trigger: stress. It can cause psoriasis to flare for the first time or aggravate existing psoriasis. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how exercise has aided my efforts to control my psoriasis. I believe it’s essential to find what works for you, whether it’s exercise, spending time with friends and family, meditation - whatever helps you relax can only help in better managing your psoriasis.
Certain medications have been known to be associated with triggering psoriasis, including some used to treat manic depression and other psychiatric disorders, as well as specific drugs for high blood pressure, heart conditions and arthritis. Talking with your doctor about any and all medications you’re taking, or thinking about taking, is important in the management of your psoriasis.
Finally, some of us have seen how allergies, diet, even weather can affect psoriasis. And as I’ve mentioned before, having a strep infection can lead to an outbreak of guttate psoriasis. Because this has happened to me twice in recent years, I’m especially cautious whenever family members have a sore throat, or I’m around others who are battling colds - I just know from experience that I need to do whatever I can to keep as healthy as possible to safeguard against possibly getting sick myself. Knowing your personal triggers, whatever they may be, will go a long way in helping you best manage your psoriasis.
Heather wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Psoriasis.