Psoriasis is a common skin condition that can affect anyone, although it's more common in people between the ages of 15 and 35, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. If you have psoriasis, your skin cells grow faster than normal.
The body naturally develops new skin cells every month to replace skin that sheds or flakes off. With psoriasis, new skin cells form within days rather than weeks. This rapid growth causes dead skin cells to accumulate on the skin’s surface, resulting in thick patches of red, dry, and itchy skin.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition, but symptoms may improve over time.
Types of Psoriasis
Psoriasis can occur on the scalp, nails, and joints. In the United States, about 7.5 million people have psoriasis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The five types of psoriasis include the following.
This common form of psoriasis causes raised, red patches on the skin. Skin patches can be itchy and painful.
This type of psoriasis can start in childhood or young adulthood.
This type of psoriasis causes red lesions in body folds.
This type causes white blisters and red skin.
This rare inflammatory type of psoriasis can develop over the entire body. Symptoms include widespread redness, pain, and severe itching.
The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown. However, it's believed that your immune system and genes may contribute to the condition. Your body’s T-cells normally fight viruses and bacteria. In psoriasis, they may start to attack healthy skin cells. Your body increases its production of new skin cells in response to this attack. These new skin cells move to the outer layer of your skin before dead skin cells shed, triggering scaly skin patches.
Psoriasis is not contagious. However, the condition may run in families. Risk factors for psoriasis include:
- family history of the condition
- having a viral or bacterial infection
- uncontrolled stress
- use of certain medications, such as those used to treat bipolar disorder and high blood pressure
Psoriasis Diagnosis and Tests
Psoriasis can mimic other skin conditions like ringworm and dermatitis. You’ll need to schedule an appointment with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis. About 95 percent of the time, doctors can diagnose psoriasis just by looking at your skin, says the National Psoriasis Foundation. Doctors sometimes need to perform a skin biopsy to rule out other skin conditions. During a biopsy, your doctor removes a piece of skin tissue and exams it under a microscope.
If you’re diagnosed with psoriasis, your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in skin diseases.
There’s no cure for psoriasis. But with treatment, you can reduce inflammation and skin irritation. Some treatment options are described below.
Your doctor may prescribe creams or ointments for your skin or scalp. These can include:
- topical corticosteroids
- vitamin D analogues
- topical retinoids
- salicylic acid
This therapy exposes skin to natural or artificial ultraviolet light under medical supervision. This treatment helps slow the growth of new skin cells.
If your psoriasis is severe or doesn't respond to other treatments, your doctor may prescribe medications to suppress your immune system.
Along with treatments recommended by your doctor, you can take other steps to reduce symptoms. Oatmeal baths may soothe irritated, red skin. Applying moisturizer to dry, itchy skin immediately after a bath or shower can also reduce flare-ups. Psoriasis may also improve if you limit alcohol consumption and learn ways to manage stress. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
Psoriasis can increase your risk for other illnesses. Some people develop psoriatic arthritis, which can cause severe joint damage. You’ll need to see a rheumatologist for treatment if your dermatologist suspects this type of psoriasis.
You also have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other possible complications of psoriasis include an increased risk for:
- high blood pressure
- celiac disease and Crohn's disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- kidney disease
Because psoriasis can develop anywhere on the body and become a widespread problem, you may also deal with periods of low self-esteem, social isolation, and depression.
There's no way to prevent psoriasis. You can reduce flare-ups by following your doctor’s treatment plan and recommendations and by avoiding common triggers like stress and smoking.
Psoriasis is a lifelong condition but it doesn't have to negatively impact the quality of your life. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of psoriasis or if the condition causes depression or mood problems.