Psoriasis (patient information)

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What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Psoriasis?

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications


Psoriasis On the Web

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Directions to Hospitals Treating Psoriasis

Risk calculators and risk factors for Psoriasis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Psoriasis is a common skin condition that causes skin redness and irritation. Most people with psoriasis have thick, red skin with flaky, silver-white patches called scales.

A young man with psoriasis involving back and arms,

What are the symptoms of Psoriasis?

Psoriasis can appear suddenly or slowly. In many cases, psoriasis goes away and then flares up again repeatedly over time.

  • 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:
    • Itchy
    • Dry and covered with silver, flaky skin (scales)
    • Pink-red in color (like the color of salmon)
    • Raised and thick
  • Other symptoms may include:
    • Genital lesions in males
    • Joint pain or aching (psoriatic arthritis)
    • Nail changes, including:
      • Nail thickening
      • Yellow-brown spots
      • Indentation (pitting) on the nail surface
      • Separation of the nail from the base
  • Severe dandruff on the scalp

Psoriasis may affect any or all parts of the skin. There are five main types of psoriasis:

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:

In general, psoriasis may be severe in people who have a weakened immune system. This may include persons who have:

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.

Sometimes, a skin biopsy is done to rule out other possible conditions. If you have joint pain, your doctor may order x-rays.

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.
  • Tell your doctor if you have joint pain or fever with your psoriasis attacks.
  • 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.

Treatment options

The goal of treatment is to control your symptoms and prevent infections.

Medical care

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)

Most cases of psoriasis are treated with medications that are placed directly on the skin or scalp:

If you have an infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.


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.

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?

Directions to Hospitals Treating 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.

Possible complications

Prevention of Psoriasis

There is no known way to prevent psoriasis. Keeping the skin clean and moist and avoiding your specific psoriasis triggers may help reduce the number of flare-ups.

Doctors recommend daily baths or showers for persons with psoriasis. Avoid scrubbing too hard, because this can irritate the skin and trigger an attack.


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