What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes cells to rapidly build up on the surface of the skin. The excess skin forms red patches that can be painful and itchy. Psoriasis is a chronic condition that can come and go.

Although there is not a cure for psoriasis, treatments can manage your symptoms. The goal of treatment is to stop the skin from multiplying and growing so quickly. Although there is no cure for psoriasis, treatments can manage your symptoms. The goal of treatment is to stop the skin from multiplying and growing so quickly.

Types of psoriasis

There are several types of psoriasis:

  • Plaque psoriasis
    Plaque psoriasis, also known as psoriasis vulgaris, is the most common type of psoriasis affecting eight out of 10 people who have the condition. Plaque psoriasis is characterized by raised, inflamed, red skin that is covered with whitish or silvery scales. It most frequently appears on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. In some patients, the bumps itch or burn.
  • Guttate psoriasis
    Guttate psoriasis is a type of psoriasis that occurs in only two percent of cases. It often starts in young children or teens. It is characterized by small, pinkish-red spots that appear on the trunk, upper arms, thighs and scalp. Guttate psoriasis can be triggered by an upper respiratory infection, stress, skin injury or medications such as beta-blockers. Although most cases of guttate psoriasis often goes away without treatment, some cases will need to be treated.
  • Inverse psoriasis
    Inverse psoriasis is characterized by bright red, smooth shiny bumps that do not have scales. This type of psoriasis is typically found in the armpits, groin, under the breasts, on the genitals or buttocks in skin folds. If you have a buildup of yeast, it may trigger an inverse psoriasis outbreak. The condition can worsen with rubbing or sweating.
  • Pustular psoriasis
    Pustular psoriasis is an uncommon type of psoriasis that appears more frequently in adults. This type of psoriasis is characterized by a red, pus-filled bump that typically shows up on one area of the body such as the feet. When it covers most of the body, it is called pustular psoriasis. If you develop fever, chills, nausea, fast heart rate, muscle weakness associated with pustular psoriasis, call your doctor right away. Pustular psoriasis can be triggered by topical medicine, pregnancy, infection, stress, exposure to certain chemicals, stopping systemic drugs or topical steroids.
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis
    Erythrodermic psoriasis is the least common type of psoriasis. It is characterized by red skin that looks like it has been burned, severe itching, peeling or burning and changes in body temperature. You may develop a faster heart rate with erythrodermic psoriasis. If you suspect you have developed erythrodermic psoriasis, call your doctor right away. It can cause a variety of other serious conditions such as congestive heart failure.

Causes of psoriasis

While the cause of psoriasis is unknown, it has been linked to an overactive immune system that creates inflammation in the body.

Possible triggers include:

  • Infection
  • Stress
  • Cold
  • Severe sunburn
  • Drug reaction 

Other triggers are associated based on the type of psoriasis you have.

Risk factors for psoriasis

There are several factors that increase your likelihood of developing psoriasis including:

  • Stress
  • Skin injury
  • Medications such as lithium, antimalarials, beta-blockers, quinidine, indomethacin
  • Viral or bacterial infections - if you have a compromised immune system from an infection such as AIDS, you are more likely to develop psoriasis
  • Family history - if you have a first-degree family member with psoriasis, you are more likely to develop psoriasis
  • Obesity - psoriasis is more likely to develop in skin folds in obese people
  • Tobacco usage - you are two times more likely to develop psoriasis if you are a smoker
  • Alcohol use - heavy alcohol use is associated with psoriasis in men
  • Cold temperatures - cold temperatures can exacerbate psoriasis
  • Complexion - people with fair complexions are more likely to develop psoriasis than those with darker skin color

Symptoms of psoriasis

Psoriasis can present differently from person to person. Symptoms of psoriasis include:

  • Red patches of skin that are covered with thick scales
  • Dry skin that cracks and potentially bleeds
  • Stiff or swollen joints
  • Thickened or ridged nails
  • Itching, sore or burning skin

Typically, you will experience cycles of psoriasis flares. You may have a flare-up for a few weeks or months that subsides for a period before flaring up again. In some patients, the psoriasis can go into remission.

  • Nail psoriasis
    Nail psoriasis is characterized by pitting of your nails, tender, painful nails, nails that change colors, whitish-chalk material that develops under your nails. It is more common in people who have psoriatic arthritis.
  • Psoriatic arthritis
    Psoriatic arthritis is a type of psoriasis that is characterized by painful, stiff joints that are more intense in the morning, discolored joints or severe swelling of fingers and toes. Most patients who develop psoriatic arthritis have psoriasis for more than ten years prior to developing the condition.

Diagnosis of psoriasis

Psoriasis can be difficult to diagnose since it can appear like other skin diseases. Your doctor will examine your skin and if necessary, take a biopsy to have a tissue examined under a microscope. Your doctor may order a blood test or X-ray to rule out other conditions such as arthritis.

Treatments for psoriasis

Your doctor will typically recommend treating psoriasis with at-home remedies such as:

  • Dehumidifier
  • Soaking in Epsom salt bath
  • Nutrition - changing your diet
  • Dietary supplements

If these conservative treatments are not effective, your doctor may try alternative treatments such as:

  • Topical creams or ointments
  • Medications that suppress your immune system
  • Phototherapy - phototherapy is a type of psoriasis treatment where your skin is exposed to artificial ultraviolet (UV) light
  • Pulsed dye laser - pulsed dye laser will destroy blood vessels around the psoriasis, cutting off the blood flow and eliminating any new cell growth in the tissue

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