If you are of a certain age, you may remember an advertising campaign that talked about the “heartbreak of psoriasis.” The phrase struck a chord as psoriasis sufferers did not have many effective options for treatment at the time. Fortunately, medical science has come a long way in treating this chronic skin disease.
Psoriasis affects millions of Americans. It causes cells to rapidly proliferate on the surface of the skin and build up, causing the itchy, dry red patches and thick, silvery scales that are the hallmark of the disease. The symptoms can vary from one individual to another but usually include:
- Red patches of skin covered with silvery scales
- Dry cracked skin that may bleed
- Thickened, pitted or ridged nails
- Small scaling spots (commonly seen in children)
Psoriasis can develop almost anywhere on the body and can range in size from small patches to large areas. There are no special blood tests or tools to diagnosis patients with psoriasis. A dermatologist or other health care provider usually makes the diagnosis after examining the affected skin. Under a microscope, skin with psoriasis looks thick and inflamed compared to normal skin or skin with eczema. Psoriasis can be associated with psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain and swelling in the joints. The National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that between 10% and 30% of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis. Psoriasis is also associated with an increased risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes.
Psoriasis is a multi-faceted disease
There are many different types of psoriasis, and most go through cycles in which symptoms flare up and then reside. The exact cause of psoriasis isn’t fully understood, but it’s believed to be related to T-cells that are part of the body’s immune system. Normally, T-cells travel throughout the body to detect and fight off viruses and bacteria. However, in people with psoriasis, the T-cells are put into action by mistake. The overactive T-cells lead to a number of problems, including dilation of blood vessels in the skin around the plaques and an increase of other white blood cells in the outer layer of skin. Psoriasis disrupts the normal cycle of skin growth and causes new skin cells to move to the outermost layer of skin too quickly. This results in thick, scaly patches on the surface of the skin since dead skin and white blood cells can’t slough off quickly enough.
Researchers know that genes are linked to the development of psoriasis but environmental factors are believed to play a role too. People with a family history of psoriasis are about a third more likely to suffer from the disease. A case of strep throat can trigger a certain type of psoriasis in children.
Beware of Psoriasis Triggers
People who have psoriasis know that certain triggers can cause flare-ups of the disease. These triggers can include:
- Injuries to the skin
- Cold weather
- Infections (including strep throat)
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Certain medications (including some high blood pressure medications)
New treatments help alleviate “the heartbreak”
Treatments for psoriasis vary depending on the severity of the disease. Some patients just need topical treatments for mild forms of psoriasis. Others require light therapy and prescription medications to manage and treat the disease. Many sufferers use a combination of treatments to get their psoriasis under control.
There’s no doubt that moderate to severe psoriasis can be difficult to treat. However, the good news is that doctors and scientists have been making great progress on better ways to battle this disease. You can learn more about the latest treatments used to treat psoriasis here.
Psoriasis is usually treated by a dermatologist, an expert in diseases of the skin. It’s important to keep in mind that treating psoriasis can be challenging and time-consuming. The disease typically goes through different cycles, often improving one month and worsening the next, for reasons that are not completely known. People can also become resistant to different treatment methods over time. That’s why it’s important to establish a good relationship with your doctor and find out the options that work best for you in battling this disease.
About John Person, MD
Dr. John Person has been practicing dermatology for 30 years and joined Reliant Medical Group in 1980. He decided to become a dermatologist because he enjoys making a diagnosis just by looking at something. “There’s a visual simplicity to practicing dermatology that I find very refreshing,” he explains. “I really enjoy the feeling of cutting through everything and making a complicated diagnosis with just my eyes.”
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