Psoriasis (patient information)
Psoriasis On the Web
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What are the symptoms of Psoriasis?
- People with psoriasis have irritated patches of skin. The redness is most often seen on the elbows, knees, and trunk, but it can appear anywhere on the body. For example, there may be flaky patches on the scalp.
- The skin patches or dots may be:
- Other symptoms may include:
- Severe dandruff on the scalp
- The skin redness is very intense and covers a large area.
- Small, pink-red spots appear on the skin.
What causes Psoriasis?
Psoriasis cannot be spread to others. Psoriasis seems to be passed down through families. Doctors think it probably occurs when the body's immune system mistakes healthy cells for dangerous substances. Skin cells grow deep in the skin and normally rise to the surface about once a month. In persons with psoriasis, this process is too fast (about 2 weeks instead of 4 weeks) and dead skin cells build up on the skin's surface. The following may trigger an attack of psoriasis or make the condition more difficult to treat:
- Bacteria or viral infections, including strep throat and upper respiratory infections
- Dry air or dry skin
- Injury to the skin, including cuts, burns, and insect bites
- Some medicines, including antimalarial drugs, beta-blockers, and lithium
- Too little sunlight
- Too much sunlight (sunburn)
- Too much alcohol
Up to one-third of people with psoriasis may also have arthritis, a condition known as psoriatic arthritis.
Who is at highest risk?
Psoriasis is a very common condition. The disorder may affect people of any age, but it most commonly begins between ages 15 and 35.
Your doctor will look at your skin. Diagnosis is usually based on what the skin looks like.
When to seek urgent medical care?
- Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of psoriasis or if the skin irritation continues despite treatment.
- Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have a severe outbreak that covers all or most of your body.
In general, three treatment options are used for patients with psoriasis:
- Topical medications such as lotions, ointments, creams, and shampoos
- Body-wide (systemic) medications, which are pills or injections that affect the whole body, not just the skin
- Phototherapy (which uses light to treat psoriasis)
- Cortisone creams and ointments
- Creams or ointments that contain coal tar or anthralin
- Creams to remove the scaling (usually salicylic acid or lactic acid)
- Dandruff shampoos (over-the-counter or prescription)
- Prescription medicines containing vitamin D or vitamin A (retinoids)
You may try the following self-care at home:
- Oatmeal baths may be soothing and may help to loosen scales. You can use over-the-counter oatmeal bath products or you can mix 1 cup of oatmeal into a tub of warm water.
- Sunlight may help your symptoms go away. Be careful not to get sunburned.
- Relaxation and antistress techniques may be helpful. The link between stress and flares of psoriasis is not well understood.
Some people may choose to have phototherapy.
- Phototherapy is a medical treatment in which your skin is carefully exposed to ultraviolet light.
- Phototherapy may be given alone or after you take a drug that makes the skin sensitive to light.
- Phototherapy for psoriasis can be given as ultraviolet A (UVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB) light.
Persons with very severe psoriasis may receive medicines to suppress the body's immune response. These medicines include methotrexate or cyclosporine. (Persons who have psoriatic arthritis may also receive these drugs.) Retinoids such as acitretin can also be used.
Newer drugs called biologics specifically target the body's immune response, which is thought to play a role in psoriasis. These drugs are used when other treatments do not work. Biologics approved for the treatment of psoriasis include:
Where to find medical care for Psoriasis?
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
Psoriasis is a life-long condition that can be controlled with treatment. It may go away for a long time and then return. With appropriate treatment, it usually does not affect your general physical health.
- Severe itching
- Secondary skin infections
- Side effects from medicines used to treat psoriasis
- Skin cancer from light therapy
Prevention of Psoriasis
Doctors recommend daily baths or showers for persons with psoriasis. Avoid scrubbing too hard, because this can irritate the skin and trigger an attack.