Is It Psoriasis or Pityriasis Rosea?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on October 30, 2017Written by Natalie Silver on November 9, 2015

Overview

There are many types of skin conditions. Some conditions are severe and last a lifetime. Other conditions are mild and last just a few weeks. Two of the more extreme types of skin conditions are psoriasis and pityriasis rosea. One is a chronic condition and the other appears for weeks to months and then clears up on its own.

Psoriasis vs. pityriasis rosea

Psoriasis and pityriasis rosea are different skin conditions. Psoriasis is caused by the immune system. Psoriasis causes your skin cells to turn over too quickly. This causes plaques or thick red skin to appear on the top of the skin. These plaques commonly appear on the outside of the elbows, knees, or scalp.

There are also other, less common forms of psoriasis. This condition lasts a lifetime, but you can manage it and reduce the chances of outbreaks.

Pityriasis rosea is also a rash, but it’s different than psoriasis. It begins as a large spot on your abdomen, chest, or back. The spot can be as large as four inches in diameter. The rash then grows and appears on other parts of your body. Pityriasis rosea generally lasts six to eight weeks.

Psoriasis symptomsPityriasis rosea symptoms
Red bumps and silvery scales on your skin, scalp, or nailsInitial oval-shaped spot on your back, abdomen, or chest
Itching, soreness, and bleeding in affected areasRash on your body that resembles a pine tree
Aching, sore, and stiff joints, which is a symptom of psoriatic arthritisVariable itching where the rash appears

Causes

Psoriasis affects more than 7.5 million people in the United States. It’s a genetic disease, which means it’s often passed down through families. Most people who have psoriasis experience their first flare-up between the ages of 15 and 30.

In the case of pityriasis rosea, the cause is not clear. Some suspect a virus may be the cause. It occurs most commonly in those ages 10 to 35 and in pregnant women.

Treatment and risk factors

The outlook for psoriasis is not the same as it is for pityriasis rosea. The treatment options are also different.

Psoriasis is a chronic condition. It requires more extensive treatment and management than pityriasis rosea. Doctors may decide to treat psoriasis with topical creams, light therapy, and systemic medications. There are also new medications to treat psoriasis that target molecules in immune cells, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).

If you’re diagnosed with psoriasis, you’ll want to learn how to manage your condition by avoiding certain triggers that worsen your condition. Triggers can include:

  • emotional stress
  • trauma
  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • obesity

Living with psoriasis can also increase your risk factors for other conditions, including:

  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • cardiovascular disease

If you have pityriasis rosea, the condition will likely clear up on its own within six to eight weeks. Your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid, antihistamine, or antiviral drug if the itching requires medication. Once the pityriasis rosea rash clears, you’ll probably never get it again.

When to see a doctor

If you suspect you have psoriasis or pityriasis rosea, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will examine and text your skin and discuss your symptoms. Doctors may confuse psoriasis and pityriasis rosea, but with more investigation, they can make a proper diagnosis.

In the case of psoriasis, your doctor will examine your body and ask about your family history because the disease is genetic. When you visit a doctor, they might suspect the rash could be caused by any of the following:

  • psoriasis
  • pityriasis rosea
  • lichen planus
  • eczema
  • seborrheic dermatitis
  • ringworm

Further testing will confirm your condition.

Pityriasis rosea can be confused with ringworm or a severe form of eczema. Your doctor will make sure the diagnosis is correct by giving you a blood test and a skin test.

It’s best to see your doctor and learn about proper treatment options if you have a skin rash. Proper treatment and management of the condition will improve your quality of life.

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