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HomeHealth A-Z Psoriasis
Psoriasis
Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a disease that can affect the joints as well as the skin.

Psoriasis

(suh-RYE-uh-sis)

Definition of Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a noncontagious skin disease characterized by patches on the skin that are often red and severely inflamed with white flakes. It is treatable, but not curable.

Description of Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a disease that affects the skin as well as the joints. Most patients experience scale like patches on the skin that are often referred to as psoriatic plaques or lesions. The plaques are often red and are severely inflamed. Patients often see that their skin turns a silver or white color on the elbows, knees, scalp, and even the genitals. Luckily psoriasis is not a contagious condition so there is no need to worry about catching it from someone that you know who is affected. The onset of psoriasis is usually quite rapid, starting with a small patch of inflamed skin that suddenly turns into the large plaques that can cover large portions of the body before treatment can be sought.

Unfortunately, psoriasis is a condition that is recurring and at times the patient can have just small patches and other times the condition can cover the entire skin surface. In addition to the skin involvement psoriasis often causes joint pain and inflammation, known as psoriatic arthritis, which is a painful condition. About 15% of the people who have psoriasis also have painful joint involvement that can keep them from doing the things that they need and want to do. Today there are treatments for psoriasis, but it is known to be a very difficult condition to treat.

Psoriasis is not a new illness; it dates back to the beginning of time, though it continues to be one of the most misunderstood illnesses today. First considered a form of leprosy, it did not get its name until 1841 when it was recognized that it was not in fact leprosy.

Causes and Risk Factors of Psoriasis

As of yet, the cause of psoriasis is not known. Most experts believe that psoriasis is genetic in nature. It is known that those who have very stressful lives and perhaps even those that consume alcohol excessively have a tendency towards this disease. All three of these risk factors do not have to occur together, but they do quite frequently. For instance, some of the people that suffer from psoriasis simply have very stressful lives, others consume excessive amounts of alcohol, and others do not have either of these risk factors, but perhaps they have a family history or none at all. Psoriasis occurs in all races, in both sexes, and in people of all ages.

Symptoms of Psoriasis

The symptoms of psoriasis vary depending on what form of the illness one has. The types of psoriasis are plaque, pustular, guttate, flexural psoriasis nail psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, as well as erythrodermic psoriasis.

The symptoms of plaque psoriasis are inflamed skin that is raised, and has silver or white scales on it. These raised and inflamed tissues are known as plaques. This is the most common type of psoriasis, with at least 80% of sufferers having this form of the illness.

Flexural psoriasis is unlike the plaque type as it appears as smooth patches of irritated or inflamed skin instead of raised areas. This type of psoriasis usually appears in skin folds, around the genitals, in the armpits, under the breasts, and anywhere that is warm, sweaty, or where friction may occur. This type of psoriasis is aggravated by friction and moisture and is also very susceptible to fungal infections, making the treatment even more complicated.

Guttate psoriasis usually appears as oval shaped spots and are usually found in large areas of the body. Most of the time this form of the illness will appear on the trunk of the body, the arms and legs, as well as the scalp. This form of the disease has been linked to the streptococcal throat infection, more commonly known as strep throat.

Pustular psoriasis is a form of the disease that appears on the body as small raised bumps that are filled with pus. The pus is not infectious, though the surrounding tissue around the bumps is red and quite tender. Many individuals have very localized pustular psoriasis while others have very widespread patches of these pustuals.

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that occurs in many people who have psoriasis. The condition is an inflammation of the joint as well as the connective tissue and can affect any joint in the body. The most commonly affected joints are the fingers and the toes and they often swell significantly, which is a condition known as dactylitis.

Erythrodermic psoriasis is a widespread inflammation of the skin, and can often include the whole body surface. This type of psoriasis usually involved intense itching, pain, and even swelling. This often occurs when treatment has stopped and can be fatal if not treated.

Other symptoms can be depression and a sudden change in self esteem because of the illness. Psoriasis is often called the heart break disease because it breaks people hearts as it changes the way the surface of the skin looks and feels.

Diagnosis of Psoriasis

Diagnosing psoriasis generally is not difficult because the condition is very obvious to most doctors. A diagnosis can be made simply by looking at the condition of the skin. Every once and again doctors may take a skin sample to rule out other diseases, but there are no blood tests to diagnose psoriasis. A skin biopsy from an individual who does have psoriasis will report clubbed Rete pegs (connective structures between skin layers), though no other differences will be seen.

Treatment of Psoriasis

Treating psoriasis is sort of a trial and error process for most doctors. Because every case is different and every body is different it’s difficult to know what will work right off the bat. Treatments will usually start topically to help minimize inflammation. Many of the substances used include corticosteroids, calcipotriol, anthralin, as well as coal tar. The idea is to start out with the treatment that is the least invasive as well as the least toxic. If topical treatments do not work on the skin, the skin can then be exposed to ultraviolet radiation, or phototherapy. Systemic treatments are generally chosen when everything else has failed or has not worked as well as they could. Systemic treatments are injections or pills, many of which suppress the immune system. Systemic treatment, phototherapy treatments, and topical treatments can all be used in conjunction with one another to get the best outcome possible.

Prevention of Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a condition that cannot be cured and will generally reoccur throughout life. The treatments available today are only used to the control the symptoms, not cure them. Unfortunately there is no known way to prevent the disease because there likely is a genetic component and we do not know for sure what causes it. Today those with psoriasis simply need to control the symptoms with different therapies to ensure their quality of life will continue for their lifetime or until there is a cure.

External Resources

National Psoriasis Foundation

American Academy of Dermatology

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