What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an immune-mediated disease* (a disease with an unclear cause that is characterized by inflammation caused by dysfunction of the immune system) that causes inflammation in the body. There may be visible signs of the inflammation such as raised plaques (plaques may look different for different skin types) and scales on the skin.

This occurs because the overactive immune system speeds up skin cell growth. Normal skin cells completely grow and shed (fall off) in a month. With psoriasis, skin cells do this in only three or four days. Instead of shedding, the skin cells pile up on the surface of the skin. Some people report that psoriasis plaques itch, burn and sting. Plaques and scales may appear on any part of the body, although they are commonly found on the elbows, knees, and scalp.

Inflammation caused by psoriasis can impact other organs and tissues in the body. People with psoriasis may also experience other health conditions. One in three people with psoriasis may also develop psoriatic arthritis. Signs of PsA include swelling, stiffness and pain in the joints and areas surrounding the joints. PsA often goes undiagnosed, particularly in its milder forms. However, it’s important to treat PsA early on to help avoid permanent joint damage.

Symptoms often start between ages 15 and 25, but can start at any age. Men, women, and children of all skin colors can get psoriasis.

Locations and Types

Psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body, even on the eyelids, ears, lips, skin folds, hands, feet, and nails. Plaques can be a few small patches or can affect large areas. It’s possible to have psoriasis plaques and scales in more than one location on the body at a time.

There are five types of psoriasis. It’s possible to have more than one type of psoriasis at one time and more than one type in a lifetime. Treatments may vary depending on the type and location of the psoriasis.

Causes and Triggers 

While scientists do not know what exactly causes psoriasis, we do know that the immune system and genetics play major roles in its development. One thing we do know: psoriasis is not contagious. You cannot catch psoriasis from another person. Usually, something triggers psoriasis, causing symptoms to appear or worsen. Triggers vary from person to person.

We now know that skin affected by psoriasis is a sign of inflammation occurring in the body. Even people living with mild psoriasis (appearing on less than 3% of the body) may have significant inflammation in the body. Evidence shows that people with mild, moderate or severe psoriasis may also experience psoriatic arthritis and other comorbidities.

That is why treating psoriasis is so important. Effective treatment of your psoriasis not only manages skin symptoms but may also help to reduce inflammation in your body that could lead to other diseases. These other diseases are often referred to as comorbidities.

A comorbidity is a disease or condition that occurs because of or is related to a health condition you have, such as psoriasis. Common comorbidities of psoriasis include psoriatic arthritis, cardiovascular (heart) disease, metabolic syndrome and mental health concerns.

There may be other reasons that you choose to treat your psoriasis. You may want to manage the intense itch and pain affecting your skin. You may want to feel confident wearing certain clothes. You may be tired of brushing off or vacuuming scales that fall from plaques. You may long to talk with people and know they are listening to you and not staring at your plaques. These are all valid reasons to treat your psoriasis.

Whatever your motivation for treating, know that there are more options available now than ever before. Discuss with your dermatologist ways to effectively treat your psoriasis.

If you are not seeing an improvement in your symptoms after three to six months, discuss with your dermatologist other treatment options or changes to your current treatment. Your dermatologist should take a treat to target approach. Under Treat to Target, a patient and their health care provider set specific targets or goals for improved health outcomes. The goals are meant to reduce the severity of plaque psoriasis so that it covers 1 percent or less of a person’s body within three months after starting a treatment. Since your treatment may also affect your overall health, continue to see your primary care provider for regular check-ups.

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