What is Psoriasis & What are the Symptoms and Treatment
What Is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin disorder that causes skin cells to multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. This makes the skin build up into bumpy red patches covered with white scales. They can grow anywhere, but most appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back. Psoriasis can’t be passed from person to person. It does sometimes happen in members of the same family. Psoriasis usually appears in early adulthood. For most people, it affects just a few areas. In severe cases, psoriasis can cover large parts of the body. The patches can heal and then come back throughout a person’s life. Psoriasis affects: 2%-3% of people throughout the world and about 2.2% of people in the United States.
The symptoms of psoriasis vary depending on the type you have. Some common symptoms for plaque psoriasis — the most common variety of the condition — include:
- Plaques of red skin, often covered with silver-colored scales. These plaques may be itchy and painful, and they sometimes crack and bleed. In severe cases, the plaques will grow and merge, covering large areas.
- Disorders of the fingernails and toenails, including discoloration and pitting of the nails. The nails may also crumble or detach from the nail bed.
- Plaques of scales or crust on the scalp.
What Causes Psoriasis?
No one knows the exact cause of psoriasis, but experts believe that it’s a combination of things. Something wrong with the immune system causes inflammation, triggering new skin cells to form too quickly. Normally, skin cells are replaced every 10 to 30 days. With psoriasis, new cells grow every 3 to 4 days. The buildup of old cells being replaced by new ones creates those silver scales.
Psoriasis tends to run in families, but it may be skip generations. For instance, a grandfather and their grandson may be affected, but not the child’s mother.
Things that can trigger an outbreak of psoriasis include:
- Cuts, scrapes, or surgery
- Emotional stress
- Strep infections
- Medications, including blood pressure medications, anti-malarial drugs, lithium and other mood stabilizers, antibiotics, and NSAIDs
Physical exam. It’s usually easy for your doctor to diagnose psoriasis, especially if you have plaques on areas such as your:
- Belly button
Your doctor will give you a full physical exam and ask if people in your family have psoriasis.
Lab tests. The doctor might do a biopsy — remove a small piece of skin and test it to make sure you don’t have a skin infection. There’s no other test to confirm or rule out psoriasis.
Luckily, there are many treatments. Some slow the growth of new skin cells, and others relieve itching and dry skin. Your doctor will select a treatment plan that is right for you based on the size of your rash, where it is on your body, your age, your overall health, and other things. Common treatments include:
- Steroid creams
- Moisturizers for dry skin
- Coal tar (a common treatment for scalp psoriasis available in lotions, creams, foams, shampoos, and bath solutions)
- Vitamin D-based cream or ointment (a strong kind ordered by your doctor. Vitamin D in foods and pills has no effect.)
- Retinoid creams
Is There a Cure?
If you are concerned about or believe you have Psoriasis, schedule an appointment at our office to meet with a dermatologist. You can contact Western Maryland Dermatology at (301) 777-7900 or visit us online at wmderma.com/contact where you can chat with one of our reservation specialists.
There’s no cure, but treatment greatly reduces symptoms, even in serious cases. Recent studies have suggested that when you better control the inflammation of psoriasis, your risk of heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, and other diseases associated with inflammation go down.