12 Things You Need to Know About Psoriasis

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Psoriasis is a complex disease that manifests itself in different ways in different people. Here, we answer common questions and concerns.


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Where does the word psoriasis come from?

The word is derived from the Greek word “psora,” which means “to itch.”


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What causes psoriasis?

Though there is no exact cause, scientists and researchers have determined that several factors contribute to the development of psoriasis, including genetics (about one out of three people with psoriasis report having a relative with the disease), environment, and an overactive immune system.


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How exactly does the immune system play a role in psoriasis?

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, when the immune system functions properly, it protects the body against “invaders” that might make you sick, such as bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. In people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, the immune system goes into action even without these invaders. Instead, the immune system fights the body’s own tissues and shows up on the skin as psoriasis patches or flare-ups.


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Are there different types of psoriasis?

There are five major types of psoriasis: Plaque psoriasis, guttate psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, and erythrodermic psoriasis. Psoriasis can appear on the skin in a variety of ways, with each type of psoriasis having distinct symptoms and characteristics. People typically only have one type of psoriasis at a time.


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Is psoriasis contagious?

No. You can’t catch psoriasis. Autoimmune diseases are not contagious.


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What kinds of treatments are there for psoriasis?

There are systemic treatments, topical treatments, and phototherapy treatments. Talk to your doctor to determine the best one for you.


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Do psoriasis flare-ups happen in cycles?

Yes. Most types of psoriasis go through cycles. A person with psoriasis may experience weeks or even months of no symptoms, appearing to go into “remission.” Keeping a journal can help you keep track of and identify possible triggers.


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What can trigger a flare?

Triggers can be different for every person living with psoriasis. Common triggers include skin injuries (cuts, scrapes, bug bites, severe sunburns), stress, weather, alcohol, and certain medications.


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Which parts of the body does psoriasis affect?

Psoriasis can develop anywhere. The most common areas are the scalp, knees, elbows and torso, but it can also appear on the nails, palms, soles, genitals,and face. Psoriasis lesions may appear in the same place on the right and left sides of the body.


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Can diet affect psoriasis?

Yes. According to the NPF, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology linked obesity to an increased risk for psoriatic disease. In general, it is best to consume more fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean meats, and fish—and less red meat, full-fat dairy foods, refined and processed foods, and alcohol.


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How do you know how severe your psoriasis is?

Make sure you’re seeing a dermatologist who specializes in psoriasis. Your doctor will then determine the severity based on the percentage of your body that is covered. You can use your hand as a basis: a handprint equals about 1 percent of your total body surface.


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What are the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis?

Up to 30 percent of people who have psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms include morning stiffness, swollen fingers and toes, back pain, tender, painful, throbbing or swollen joints, reduced range of motion, and nail changes (such as pitting or separation from the nail bed).