Nearly 7.5 million Americans suffer from psoriasis, a chronic skin condition that causes dry, scaly and painful patches of skin. This uncomfortable condition most commonly affects the joints, face and neck, torso, arms and legs, hands and feet, and scalp. There is no cure, but it can usually be managed through active treatment.
Psoriasis develops when a person’s immune system incorrectly causes skin cells to grow too quickly. New skin cells form in days rather than weeks, and the body is then unable to shed the excess skin. The cells pile up on the surface of the skin, causing patches of psoriasis to appear. These buildups are itchy and uncomfortable, and can crack and bleed.
This disorder is genetic and can be triggered by stress, infections, certain medications, insect bites or even excessive sunlight. However, the exact cause is often unknown. People of all ages and ethnicities can develop psoriasis, but it is more common in Caucasians than other races. Psoriasis is not contagious, so you can’t catch it from touching someone who has it.
There are five types of psoriasis — plaque, pustular, guttate, inverse and erythrodermic — and all have different symptoms. Plaque psoriasis is most common. It grows as thick patches of skin, typically covered with silvery-white scales. Pustular psoriasis causes pus-filled bumps to develop, usually on the feet or hands. Guttate psoriasis looks like small spots all over the skin. Inverse psoriasis occurs in areas where skin touches skin, such as the armpits, and appears in bright red, smooth patches. Babies and young children are more likely to get guttate and inverse psoriasis. Erythrodermic psoriasis makes the skin look red, as if it is badly burned.
To diagnose psoriasis, a doctor will examine a patient’s skin, nails and scalp. The doctor will ask about family history and what has been happening recently in the patient’s life. The doctor might want to know whether a patient has been under a lot of stress, had a recent illness or started taking a new medicine. To confirm a psoriasis diagnosis, a bit of the patient’s skin might be removed and examined under a microscope.
To treat psoriasis, a physician might prescribe a topical steroid cream that’s stronger than what you might find over the counter. Usually, after applying the topical steroid, patients will begin to notice a slight improvement in two or three days. If the condition progresses, oral medications might be prescribed.
Even with treatment, most patients will have psoriasis for life. By teaming up with a physician, patients can find a treatment plan that works for them, as effective treatments vary case by case. By taking an active role in treatment, patients can reduce the negative effects of psoriasis and maintain their quality of life.
Dr. Jessica Pennington is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.