Psoriasis is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease that causes skin cells to multiply too fast, building up to form scales and itchy, dry patches. Psoriasis is not only painful and irritating, but it's also linked to Psoriatic Arthritis, a form of the disease unique to those with psoriasis. Psoriasis alone can cause serious impediments to your daily functioning as well as impair your self-image and your willingness and ability to socialize.
Causes of Psoriasis
While doctors and scientists are still investigating the exact cause of Psoriasis, they do know that the immune system and genetics play major roles in its development. In fact, scientists are still examining types of DNA samples in large families who have Psoriasis. Usually, there needs to be a "trigger" for psoriasis to flare up. The skin cells in people who have Psoriasis grow at an abnormally fast rate, which leads to the buildup of psoriasis lesions.
Psoriasis triggers are not universal. What may cause one person's psoriasis to become active, may not affect another. Examples of Psoriasis triggers include:
- Skin damage or injury.
- Infections or a compromised immune system.
- Certain medications.
Psoriasis often first appears between the ages of 15 to 35, but it can develop at any age. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of those with Psoriasis develop it before the age of 10.
When examined, Psoriasis skin looks thicker and more inflamed compared to skin that is affected by Eczema.
Types of Psoriasis
There are five different types of Psoriasis.
Plaque Psoriasis: The most common form of the disease and often appears as red, raised patches of skin that are covered with a silvery, white buildup of dead skin cells. These patches, or plaques, most often are present of the scalp, knees, elbows, and lower back. They are often itchy, painful, and are prone to cracking and bleeding.
Guttate: Appearing as small, dot-like lesions, Guttate Psoriasis often starts in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, and can be triggered by a Strep infection. Approximately 10 percent of people who develop Psoriasis will develop this type, leaving it as the second most common form.
Inverse: Appearing as red lesions in body folds, such as behind the knee, under the arm, or in the groin, inverse psoriasis often accompanies other forms. It may appear smooth and shiny as well. Usually, people also have another type of Psoriasis on their body at the same time as Inverse.
Pustular: Characterized by white pustules (noninfectious blisters) surrounded by red skin, pustular psoriasis can occur on any part of the body but most often develops on the hands or feet.
Erythrodermic: This particularly rare, severe form of psoriasis can lead to widespread, fiery redness over large areas of the body, leading to severe itching and pain as well as widespread exfoliation (skin peeling). This type only occurs in 3% of people with psoriasis, and can be life-threatening.
The Effects of Psoriasis
Psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body, and its treatment can depend on the where it develops. Most commonly, psoriasis can appear on the following:
- Scalp: can extend beyond the hairline onto the forehead, the back of the neck, and around the ears.
- Face: most often affects the eyebrows, skin between the nose and upper lip, the upper forehead, and the hairline.
- Hands, Feet, & Nails: Cracking, blisters, and swelling on the hands and feet often accompany flares. Nail changes occur in up to 50% of people with psoriasis, and at least 80% of people with Psoriatic Arthritis.
- Skin Folds: Inverse psoriasis can occur in skin folds, such as underneath the arms, and underneath breasts.
Determining the physical severity of psoriasis is largely based on the extent of its spread:
- Mild Psoriasis covers less than 3 percent of the body.
- Moderate Psoriasis covers between 3 and 10 percent of the body.
- Severe Psoriasis covers more than 10 percent of the body.
The severity of psoriasis is also measured by how much it affects a person's quality of life. Does it prevent you from socializing? Does it cause pain and irritation that make daily activities difficult?
There are many different psoriasis treatment options, as every case is unique. Psoriasis treatment typically requires the guidance of a medical professional. Some treatment options include:
- Biologics: Typically given through injection or IV infusion, biologics are for moderate to severe psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis that has not responded to other treatments.
- Systemics: Prescription drugs that are taken orally or by injection, and work throughout the body. For individuals who have moderate to severe psoriasis.
- Phototherapy: Also known as light therapy, this involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis.
- Oral Treatments: Improve symptoms by inhibiting specific molecules associated with inflammation.
- Topical Treatments: Typically used for mild psoriasis, this can include creams, moisturizers, and shampoos.