Psoriasis is a skin disease that develops when the immune system (specifically, one key cell called a T cell) sends faulty signals that ultimately tell skin cells to grow too quickly. Since the body does not shed these excess skin cells, the skin cells pile up on the surface of the skin, causing patches of psoriasis to appear.
Psoriasis is an inherited disorder
Psoriasis is not a contagious disease
Types of Psoriasis
There are five types of psoriasis:
Guttate Psoriasis – this usually appears a small, red spots on the arms, legs, trunk, and can show up on the face, ears or scalp, although it can appear all over the skin. The spots often appear after a strep throat and can last for a few weeks or months if not treated. Guttate psoriasis may also show up if the person has had Plaque psoriasis.
Plaque Psoriasis– this appears as itchy, raised reddish patches on the skin. Scratching the patches can cause them to thicken. The patches may be covered with a grey-white covering, sometimes referred to as scales. Most patches appear on the elbows, knees, lower back or scalp. The patches can vary in size and may join together to cover a large area. If Plaque psoriasis affects the nails, the nails may fall off. Plaque psoriasis is also called Psoriasis Vulgaris.
Pustular Psoriasis – this shows up as red, swollen pus-filled bumps that can appear on the palms and soles of the feet, but it can appear on other parts of the body. If Pustular psoriasis shows up on the body, the person may also have fever, chills, loss of appetite, weakness and severe itching.
Erythrodermic Psoriasis (Exfoliative psoriasis)– this type of psoriasis can be dangerous. It will appear on most the skin on the body. The body turns bright red and the skin looks burned. Someone with Erythrodermic psoriasis may have intense itching and pain, they may feel very hot, or very cold (the body is unable to maintain a normal temperature) and the heart may be beating too fast. Someone presenting with Erythrodermic psoriasis should be taken for medical treatment immediately.
Inverse Psoriasis – this appears wherever skin touches skin (armpits, groin, etc). It shows as smooth red patches that look raw. The skin feels very sore where the psoriasis appears. Inverse psoriasis is also called Flexural or Intertriginous psoriasis.
What Causes Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a genetic disorder – you have to inherit the genes that cause psoriasis to get it. Even so, it is estimated that approximately 8 million people in the United States alone, have psoriasis – about 80% of those cases are Plaque psoriasis.
You cannot get psoriasis if you did not inherit the gene – and you cannot get psoriasis from touching someone who has the condition.
Not everyone who has the gene will present with the condition. It is thought at in order for psoriasis to appear, some kind of trigger must be set – such as strep throat, a stressful event, cold, dry weather, a sunburn, or taking certain medicine such as lithium or anti-malaria medicine.
Psoriasis can begin at any age. Infants and young children are more likely to get Inverse or Guttate psoriasis. Most people get psoriasis between the ages of 15 to 30, then again between 50 and 60 years old. Caucasian people are more affected by psoriasis than any other race.
Psoriasis must be treated by a Dermatologist who will examine you to determine the correct diagnosis and implement the right treatment plan. The Dermatologist may take a small sample of skin to confirm the diagnosis and type of psoriasis.
There are many medical treatments thanks to ongoing research. However, it is important to understand that psoriasis can only be managed, not cured. The goal of treatment is to control the symptoms and prevent infections. Your Dermatologist will determine the best treatment plan for your condition.
In general, three treatment options are used for patients with psoriasis:
- Topical medications such as lotions, ointments, creams, and shampoos.
- Systemic medications – these are pills or injections that affect the whole body, not just the skin.
- Phototherapy – this uses light to treat psoriasis.
There are some natural remedies for psoriasis that can help manage the condition – but these are not a substitute for treatment from a medical doctor.