What is psoriasis?
According to the National Institutes of Health about 3 percent of Americans live with a condition called psoriasis that causes red itchy scaly patches on the skin. This disease can be embarrassing for those who have it and sometimes leads to isolation and even depression - but the good news is that doctors have come a long way in their understanding of this disease (and how to treat it).
What is psoriasis?
Normally skin cells develop in deeper layers of the skin and slowly rise to the surface over the course of about a month. With psoriasis this process happens in a few days. The new skin cells pile up with the old skin cells causing red flaky rashes.
The rashes most commonly appear on the scalp knees or outside of the elbow but they can show up almost anywhere. Sometimes psoriasis can create feelings of itching burning and stinging.
Scientists aren't sure what causes psoriasis but MedlinePlus suggested that genetics and an immune system response both play a role. Regardless of the cause the disease is not contagious.
What are complications of psoriasis?
The National Psoriasis Foundation estimated that about 30 percent of people with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis. Like other forms of arthritis this condition causes swelling of the joints pain and stiffness.
Psoriasis also seems to increase the risk of other health problems such as diabetes heart disease and depression. Closely following your doctor's treatment plan (and their recommendations for a healthy lifestyle) can help mitigate those risks.
How is psoriasis treated?
First your doctor will want to confirm that your skin problem is psoriasis especially since the disease can look similar to other skin conditions like eczema. Your physician will likely perform a physical exam and ask whether you have any family members with psoriasis. A dermatologist may take a sample of the affected skin and examine it under a microscope to help make a diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the severity of your disease which is determined by how much skin is affected and in what areas the rashes appear. For mild psoriasis lotions and creams may work to calm the skin. Phototherapy is another effective treatment that uses UV light to lessen inflammation and heal the skin.
More severe cases in which the psoriasis is widespread may require prescription-strength creams or medications. Newer medications target the immune system cells in an attempt to correct the overreaction that causes the rash.
Symptoms usually come and go and can be triggered by dry skin stress or illness. If you notice flaky painful rashes that appear on your skin but are slow to heal you may want to see a dermatologist for an evaluation. Your dermatologist will work with you to manage outbreaks and lessen the appearance of irritated skin. You'll no longer have to wonder "what is psoriasis?"