What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic (long-lasting) disease in which the immune system works too much, causing patches of skin to become scaly and inflamed. Most often, psoriasis affects the:
The symptoms of psoriasis can sometimes go through cycles, flaring for a few weeks or months followed by times when they subside (or go into remission).
If you have psoriasis, you may have a higher risk of getting other serious conditions, including:
- Psoriatic arthritis.
- Heart attack or stroke.
- Mental health problems, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Who gets psoriasis?
Anyone can get psoriasis, but it is more common in adults than in children. It affects men and women equally.
What are the types of psoriasis?
There are different types of psoriasis, but the most common kind is plaque psoriasis. It appears as raised, red patches of skin that are covered by silvery-white scales. The patches usually develop in the same pattern on both sides of the body and tend to appear on the:
- Limbs, especially the elbows and knees.
What are the symptoms of psoriasis?
Symptoms of psoriasis can be different for each person, but some common ones are:
- Patches of thick, red skin with silvery-white scales that itch or burn.
- Dry, cracked skin that itches or bleeds.
- Thick, ridged, pitted nails.
The symptoms of psoriasis tend to come and go. You may find that there are times when your symptoms get worse, called flares, followed by times when you feel better (remission).
Some patients have a related condition called psoriatic arthritis, in which you have stiff, swollen, painful joints. If you have symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, be sure to tell your doctor as soon as you can.
What causes psoriasis?
In psoriasis, your body’s immune system starts working too much and causing problems. Doctors do not fully understand what triggers the immune system, but they know that it involves genes and environmental factors. Many people with psoriasis have a family history of the disease.
Other factors that may increase the chances of developing psoriasis include:
- Some types of infections.
- Certain medicines.
Is there a test for psoriasis?
To see if you have psoriasis, your doctor usually examines your skin, scalp, and nails for signs of the condition. They may also ask questions about your health and history.
This information can help the doctor figure out if you have psoriasis, and, if so, identify which type. To rule out other skin conditions that look like psoriasis, your doctor may take a small skin sample to look at under a microscope.
How is psoriasis treated?
While there is currently no cure for psoriasis, there are treatments that keep symptoms under control so that you can perform daily activities and sleep better. Your treatment may include:
- Medications you put on your skin—such as creams, ointments, lotions, foams, or solutions—or others that are injected or taken by mouth.
- Phototherapy, where your doctor shines an ultraviolet light on your skin in their office.
Who treats psoriasis?
Psoriasis is treated by:
- Dermatologists, who specialize in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails. You may want to find a dermatologist that specializes in treating psoriasis.
Other health care providers who may be involved in your care include:
- Mental health professionals, who provide counseling and treat mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
- Primary health care providers, including family doctors, internists, or pediatricians.
Living with psoriasis
Psoriasis can affect your day-to-day life, including work and sleep. However, doctors can work with you to help reduce the symptoms. Here are some things you can do:
- Bathe in lukewarm water and use mild soap that has added oils. After bathing, put on heavy moisturizing lotions while your skin is still damp.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- If you smoke, work with your doctor to make a plan to quit.
- Moderate your use of alcohol.
- Expose your skin to small amounts of sunlight. Limited sunlight can alleviate symptoms, but too much can make them worse, so consult your doctor for advice.
- Try to identify things that trigger psoriasis flares and work to avoid them. Some people have found that stress, cold weather, skin injuries, certain medicines, and infections spark flares.
- Join a support group or visit a mental health provider. Psoriasis can affect a person’s mental health, increasing the risk of anxiety and depression. Seeking out support can help you learn more about coping and living with the disease.