What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes thick, itchy, scaly red patches most commonly on the elbows, knees, scalp and trunk. It is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the skin.

What Are The Causes of Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects the skin, causing rapid skin cell production leading to scaling on the skin’s surface. The exact causes of psoriasis aren’t fully understood, but it’s believed to be related to an immune system problem with T cells and other white blood cells, called neutrophils, in the body. Here are some key factors involved:

  1. Genetic Factors: Psoriasis has a strong genetic component, and many people with psoriasis have a family member with the disease. Certain genes are linked to the development of psoriasis, and these genes can increase an individual’s susceptibility to the condition.
  2. Immune System: Psoriasis is considered an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. This immune response leads to inflammation and a rapid turnover of skin cells.
  3. Environmental Triggers: Various environmental factors can trigger psoriasis in individuals who have an inherited tendency. These can include infections (like strep throat), skin injuries (such as cuts, scrapes, or surgery), stress, cold weather, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and certain medications (including lithium, high blood pressure medications, and antimalarial drugs).
  4. Other Triggers: Hormonal changes can also play a role in the onset or worsening of psoriasis, particularly during puberty and menopause.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms of Psoriasis?

Psoriasis can manifest in a variety of signs and symptoms, which may vary depending on the type of psoriasis. The most common symptoms include:

  1. Red Patches of Skin.
  2. Dry, Cracked Skin
  3. Itching, Burning, or Soreness
  4. Thickened, Pitted, or Ridged Nails: Psoriasis can affect fingernails and toenails, causing pitting, abnormal nail growth, and discoloration.
  5. Stiff and Swollen Joints: In some cases, psoriasis leads to psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in and around the joints.

What Are The Risk Factors of Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is influenced by several risk factors that can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing the condition.

  1. Family History: Having one or more family members with psoriasis increases your risk significantly. The risk is higher if both parents have psoriasis.
  2. Viral and Bacterial Infections: People with HIV are more susceptible to psoriasis than those with healthy immune systems. Children and young adults with recurring infections, particularly strep throat, also may be at increased risk.
  3. Stress: High stress levels can impact the immune system and may increase the risk or severity of psoriasis flare-ups.
  4. Obesity: Excess weight increases the risk of psoriasis. Plaques associated with all types of psoriasis often develop in skin creases and folds.
  5. Smoking: Tobacco use can increase your risk of developing psoriasis and may increase the severity of the disease.
  6. Alcohol Consumption: Heavy alcohol use can trigger psoriasis flare-ups and may interfere with the effectiveness of some treatments.
  7. Medications: Certain medications are known to trigger psoriasis flare-ups. These include lithium, used for bipolar disorder; high blood pressure medications such as beta-blockers; antimalarial drugs; and iodides.
  8. Weather: Cold, dry weather can worsen symptoms, while warm, sunny climates might improve them.

How is Psoriasis Diagnosed?

Different types of psoriasis have unique characteristics:

  • Plaque Psoriasis: The most common form, characterized by dry, raised, red skin lesions (plaques) covered with silvery scales.
  • Nail Psoriasis: Affects the fingernails and toenails, leading to pitting, abnormal nail growth, and discoloration.
  • Guttate Psoriasis: Often starts in childhood or young adulthood, presenting as small, water-drop-shaped, scaling lesions on the trunk, arms, legs, and scalp.
  • Inverse Psoriasis: Shows up as bright red, shiny lesions that appear in skin folds, such as under the breasts, in the groin, or around the genitals and buttocks.
  • Pustular Psoriasis: Characterized by white pustules (blisters of noninfectious pus) surrounded by red skin.
  • Erythrodermic Psoriasis: The least common type of psoriasis, erythrodermic psoriasis can cover your entire body with a red, peeling rash that can itch or burn intensely.

Symptoms may come and go in cycles, flaring for a few weeks or months, then subsiding for a time or even going into complete remission. The severity of psoriasis varies widely among individuals, and understanding the specific symptoms can aid in more targeted and effective treatments.

What Are Possible Treatments For Psoriasis?

The treatment of psoriasis is tailored to the individual, depending on the severity of the disease, the size of the patches, the type of psoriasis, and the patient’s reaction to initial treatments. Here’s an overview of the common treatment options for psoriasis:

1. Topical Treatments

These are applied directly to the skin and are usually the first approach in treating mild to moderate psoriasis:

  • Topical corticosteroids: These are the most common treatments for psoriasis, used to reduce inflammation and itching.
  • Vitamin D analogues: These compounds (like calcipotriene) can help slow skin cell growth.
  • Topical retinoids: These are vitamin A derivatives that can decrease inflammation.
  • Calcineurin inhibitors: Such as tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, are useful in areas with thin skin, like around the eyes, where steroid creams might cause too much thinning.
  • Salicylic acid: Helps with the shedding of psoriatic scales.
  • Moisturizers: While not medicated, moisturizers can reduce itching, scaling, and dryness.

2. Light Therapy (Phototherapy)

Exposing the skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis, under medical supervision, can significantly improve symptoms:

  • Sunlight: Natural sunlight can help kill the active white blood cells that are attacking healthy skin cells.
  • UVB phototherapy: Controlled doses of UVB light from an artificial light source may improve mild to moderate psoriasis symptoms.

3. Systemic Medications

Used for more severe cases or when other treatments are ineffective, these are administered orally or by injection:

  • Methotrexate: Reduces the production of skin cells and suppresses inflammation.
  • Biologics: Target specific parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation and the resulting overproduction of skin cells. These drugs are usually prescribed for moderate to severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
  • Retinoids: Used for severe cases of psoriasis, particularly when other treatments are ineffective.

4. Alternative Therapies

Some people find relief from symptoms through alternative therapies, though evidence is variable:

  • Aloe vera: Applied as a cream, it can reduce redness and scaling.
  • Fish oil supplements: May be helpful when taken orally; omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation.
  • Dietary changes: Some evidence suggests that diet can influence psoriasis symptoms, particularly gluten-free and anti-inflammatory diets.

5. Lifestyle Changes

In addition to medical treatments, lifestyle modifications can help manage and reduce psoriasis symptoms:

  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing stress
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

A dermatologist is the best resource to guide treatment options, as they can provide personalized advice based on an individual’s specific health needs and medical history.

Are There Preventative Steps or Measures To Avoid Psoriasis?

While there’s no surefire way to prevent psoriasis, there are steps you can take to potentially reduce your risk or minimize flare-ups:

  1. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help support overall health, which may in turn reduce the severity of psoriasis symptoms.
  2. Manage Stress: Stress is known to trigger or exacerbate psoriasis flare-ups. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as through relaxation techniques, mindfulness, or therapy, may help reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.
  3. Avoid Skin Injuries: Trauma to the skin, such as cuts, scrapes, or sunburns, can trigger psoriasis lesions in some individuals. Taking precautions to avoid skin injuries can help minimize flare-ups.
  4. Moisturize: Keeping your skin well-moisturized can help soothe and prevent dryness, which is a common trigger for psoriasis flare-ups. Use gentle, fragrance-free moisturizers regularly, especially after bathing.
  5. Limit Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can trigger psoriasis flare-ups in some people. Limiting alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether may help reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.
  6. Avoid Certain Medications: Some medications, such as lithium, beta-blockers, and certain antimalarial drugs, can exacerbate psoriasis symptoms. If you have psoriasis, discuss alternative medications with your healthcare provider if necessary.
  7. Sun Protection: While sunlight can sometimes improve psoriasis symptoms, excessive sun exposure can also trigger flare-ups. Protect your skin from sunburn by using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing when spending time outdoors.

What Are The Risks If Psoriasis Is Left Untreated?

Leaving psoriasis untreated can lead to various complications and risks, including:

  1. Increased Severity of Symptoms: Psoriasis symptoms may worsen over time if left untreated. This can lead to larger areas of affected skin, more frequent flare-ups, and increased discomfort.
  2. Physical Discomfort: Psoriasis can cause itching, pain, and discomfort, especially if lesions become inflamed or cracked. Untreated psoriasis can result in persistent physical discomfort and reduced quality of life.
  3. Joint Problems: Some individuals with psoriasis develop a type of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis, which can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. If left untreated, psoriatic arthritis can lead to joint damage and disability.
  4. Increased Risk of Comorbidities: Psoriasis has been associated with an increased risk of developing certain comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. Leaving psoriasis untreated may further elevate the risk of these conditions.
  5. Psychological Impact: Living with untreated psoriasis can have a significant psychological impact, including feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, anxiety, and depression. These psychological effects can further impair quality of life and overall well-being.
  6. Impaired Immune Response: Psoriasis is considered an autoimmune disease, and untreated psoriasis may dysregulate the immune system, potentially leading to increased susceptibility to infections and other immune-related conditions.
  7. Negative Impact on Relationships: Psoriasis symptoms, particularly visible skin lesions, can affect personal relationships and social interactions. Untreated psoriasis may contribute to feelings of isolation and difficulty forming or maintaining relationships.
  8. Work and Social Implications: Severe psoriasis symptoms may interfere with daily activities, work performance, and social engagements. Untreated psoriasis can exacerbate these challenges, potentially leading to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and social withdrawal.

It’s essential for individuals with psoriasis to seek appropriate medical care and follow a treatment plan tailored to their specific needs. Effective management of psoriasis can help alleviate symptoms, reduce the risk of complications, and improve overall quality of life.

Are There Other Related Conditions To Psoriasis?

Yes, psoriasis is associated with several related conditions, both autoimmune and non-autoimmune. Some of the most common related conditions include:

  1. Psoriatic Arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that affects some individuals with psoriasis. It can cause joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and in severe cases, joint damage.
  2. Cardiovascular Disease: Psoriasis has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The chronic inflammation associated with psoriasis may contribute to these cardiovascular risks.
  3. Metabolic Syndrome: Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Psoriasis is associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, possibly due to shared underlying inflammatory processes.
  4. Type 2 Diabetes: There is evidence suggesting that psoriasis is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Chronic inflammation and other factors may contribute to this relationship.
  5. Obesity: Psoriasis and obesity often coexist, and there is evidence to suggest that obesity may increase the risk of developing psoriasis and exacerbate its severity. Conversely, psoriasis may also contribute to weight gain due to decreased physical activity and other factors.
  6. Depression and Anxiety: Living with a chronic condition like psoriasis can take a toll on mental health. Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are more common in individuals with psoriasis compared to the general population.
  7. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Psoriasis is associated with an increased risk of inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
  8. Eye Conditions: Some eye conditions, such as uveitis (inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye), are more common in individuals with psoriasis.

It’s important for individuals with psoriasis to be aware of these related conditions and discuss any concerns with their healthcare providers. Managing psoriasis effectively may also help reduce the risk or severity of some of these associated conditions. Regular medical check-ups and appropriate screenings can help detect and manage these conditions early.

Key Takeaways About Psoriasis (Top 3-5 points to remember from everything)

  1. Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes thick, itchy, scaly red patches most commonly on the elbows, knees, scalp and trunk. It is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the skin.
  2. While there’s no surefire way to prevent psoriasis, there are steps you can take to potentially reduce your risk or minimize flare-ups
  3. Different types of psoriasis have unique characteristics: Plaque Psoriasis, Nail Psoriasis, Guttate Psoriasis, Pustular Psoriasis, and Erythrodermic Psoriasis.
  4. Treatments include; topicals, phototherapy, systemic medication, alternative therapies, and lifestyle changes

Recommended Next Steps

Visit a dermatologist for further evaluation and treatment