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What is Psoriasis? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

what is psoriasisEven though psoriasis is a relatively common condition with an estimated 7.5 to 8.5 million Americans living with it, it remains a bit of a medical mystery. There is no cure, but an effective psoriasis treatment is found for most patients. Understanding what is psoriasis and the factors that may aggravate it are important first steps toward bringing this condition under control.


So, What is Psoriasis?

The basic answer to the question what is psoriasis is relatively straightforward. It’s a non-contagious autoimmune disorder that typically involves red, raised, scaly patches on the skin. The parts of the body most commonly affected are the scalp, knees, elbows, buttocks, genitals and navel. These scaly, itchy patches of red skin are most commonly referred to as psoriatic plaques. They appear because the body isn’t able to shed the skin cells as quickly as they are produced. Typical, healthy skin cell turnover requires between 21 and 28 days. The life cycle of the cell begins on the deepest layer of the epidermis. Cells work their way toward the outer surface of the skin before dying and being shed. In the person with psoriasis symptoms this cycle only requires two to six days. Accordingly, the body simply can’t keep up with the rapid production of skin cells. The cells build up on the surface, turning silvery and thick.

In addition to the rough, scaly, red appearance of psoriatic plaques, many people who experience psoriasis symptoms feel itchy and sore. Particularly severe cases may lead to cracking and bleeding, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to seek out a psoriasis treatment as soon as possible.


Different Forms of Psoriasis

As you learn about what is psoriasis, you’ll discover that the disorder may take on several different forms. Most people who exhibit symptoms of the disorder are diagnosed with plaque psoriasis or psoriasis “vulgaris”, which is the Latin word for common. In fact, between 80% and 90% of people who are diagnosed with psoriasis have this form of the disorder. Patients with plaque psoriasis exhibit the raised, red, scaly patches on the scalp, knees, elbows, torso and sometimes the nails.

An individual who is overweight may be more susceptible to a different form of the disorder known as inverse psoriasis. This condition affects the skin where it folds over on itself or is subject to rubbing and sweating. Patients often develop these psoriasis symptoms under the arms, beneath the breasts, buttocks, under the stomach and on the genitals. Rather than being raised and scaly, these psoriasis patches are more often dry and smooth.

Other forms of psoriasis are less common. Guttate psoriasis may appear as tiny scaly pink spots on all parts of the body and commonly follows a streptococcal throat infection. Pustular psoriasis involves raised bumps that are filled with pus. Nail psoriasis affects the finger and toenails, causing them to be pitted or ridged. Some patients with psoriasis experience this disorder of the nails in conjunction with another form of the disorder. Erythrodermic psoriasis is probably the most rare form, and is characterized by almost total body redness and scaling.


Psoriatic Arthritis

Additionally, it’s estimated that between 10 and 30 percent of people who are diagnosed with psoriasis will be affected by psoriatic arthritis. This condition affects the joints and connective tissues. It’s typical for patients to develop psoriasis first, with the early symptoms of psoriatic arthritis developing afterward. However, the onset of symptoms is reversed for some patients. For all of these people, figuring out what is psoriasis is particularly important. Significant, ongoing medical care is required to help them manage this condition.

People with psoriatic arthritis experience red, raised plaques on the skin in addition to stiffness and soreness affecting various joints. The joints of the fingers and toes are most frequently affected. However, it’s not unusual for psoriatic arthritis to affect many other joints such as those in the knees, elbows and spine. Complications may ensue if the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis go untreated. If you believe you have the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, it’s important to seek medical help so you can begin an appropriate course of treatment.


Psoriasis Triggers

Once you have discovered what is psoriasis, you’re probably interested in finding a psoriasis treatment. However, it’s important to understand that there is no cure for psoriasis. Moreover, psoriasis causes remain a bit of a mystery. Scientists feel confident that there is a connection between the disorder and a problem in the immune system. In fact, there is a particular T cell that most researchers believe may be the culprit behind the condition.

While psoriasis causes haven’t been definitively pinned down yet, scientists have identified certain psoriasis triggers that have been known to start or worsen the condition. These include stress, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Accordingly, leading a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t include tobacco and allows only minimal amounts of alcohol may help to control the disorder. Cold weather has also been known to worsen psoriasis symptoms as have infections like strep throat. An injury to the skin like a burn, cut or bug bite may also cause psoriasis symptoms to appear. Even some prescription medications, such as those prescribed for bipolar disorder and high blood pressure, have been known to bring on a flare up.


Treatment for Psoriasis

Fortunately, people who suffer from this disorder can learn to avoid or manage most of these triggers. Additionally, a qualified dermatologist can prescribe a psoriasis treatment designed to minimize psoriasis symptoms. An effective psoriasis treatment frequently includes a topical treatment. Topical corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications that are often prescribed for people with mild to moderate psoriasis symptoms. Topical vitamin D ointments may also be used to slow the growth rate of skin cells. A retinoid topical treatment is similarly effective in many cases. Salicylic acid and coal tar are helpful too, and they may be available in over-the-counter products for a quick solution to a breakout.

Your dermatologist may also recommended light therapy, which relies upon the application of ultraviolet light. With this psoriasis treatment, your doctor may expose affected areas of skin to UV rays. Use of an excimer laser is becoming increasingly popular because of the precise psoriasis treatment it provides. Ask your dermatologist if this approach might be helpful for you.

Dermatologists also prescribe oral medications or injections if your psoriasis symptoms are particularly severe. Prescriptions like retinoids, methotrexate, cyclosporine and biologics may all be advisable treatments. Your dermatologist will carefully explain what these drugs do and any risks associated with their use. Stick to the recommended course of treatment to get the best effect.


Once you’ve discovered what is psoriasis you’ll begin to see that effective treatments are available for this condition. Many people suffer embarrassment and self-consciousness as a result of their psoriasis symptoms, but you may be able to bring these under control with the help of your dermatologist. Make an appointment with The Dermatology Group today to learn more.



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