Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition characterized by inflamed and scaly skin. Your body typically creates new skin cells in about a month, but people with psoriasis grow new skin cells in a few days. If you have psoriasis, your immune system is overactive and your body can’t shed skin cells faster than it produces them, causing skin cells to pile up and creating red, itchy, and scaly skin.
Research is still ongoing as to the cause of psoriasis, but according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, around 10 percent of people inherit one or more of the genes that could lead to it, but only 2 to 3 percent of people get the disease. This means that a combination of things must happen for you to develop psoriasis: you have to inherit the gene and be exposed to certain external aspects.
Psoriasis often appears as itchy, red patches of skin covered with silvery scales, but other symptoms include:
- dry or cracked skin that can bleed
- thickened, pitted, or ridged nails
- swollen and stiff joints
Psoriasis patches can range from a few flaky spots to large scaly areas. It usually comes and goes in phases, flaring for a few weeks or months, then going away for a time or even going into full remission.
Several risk factors that can contribute to the development of psoriasis are described below.
While stress doesn’t cause psoriasis, it can cause an outbreak or exacerbate an existing case.
Psoriasis can appear on areas of your skin where vaccinations, sunburns, scratches, or other injuries have occurred.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, certain medications are associated with triggering psoriasis, including:
- lithium, which is used to treat certain mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, makes psoriasis worse in about half of people who have it
- antimalarials can cause psoriasis flare-ups typically two to three weeks after you start taking the medication
- beta-blockers, which are used to treat high blood pressure, worsen psoriasis in some people. For example, the beta-blocker propranolol (Inderal) makes psoriasis worse in about 25 to 30 percent of patients
- quinidine, used to treat types of irregular heartbeats, worsens psoriasis in some people
- indomethacin (Tivorbex) is used to treat arthritis, and has made psoriasis worse in some cases
Viral and bacterial infections
Psoriasis may be more severe in patients who have a compromised immune system, including people who have AIDS, people who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer, or people with another autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or celiac disease. Children and young adults with recurring infections, such as strep throat or upper respiratory infections, are also at an increased risk of worsened psoriasis.
Having a parent with psoriasis increases your risk of developing it, and having two parents with it increases your risk even more. A parent with the disease has about a 10 percent chance of passing it down to their child. If both parents have psoriasis, there’s a 50 percent chance of passing down the trait.
Plaques – red patches of skin with dead, white skin on top – are symptoms of all types of psoriasis and can develop in deep skin folds. Friction and sweating that occurs in deep skin folds of people with excess weight can lead to or aggravate psoriasis.
This study found that smoking nearly doubles a person’s chance of acquiring psoriasis. This risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked in a day, and is also higher in women than men.
Research into the effects of alcohol on psoriasis is a bit muddled because smoking and drinking often go hand in hand. This study found that drinking alcohol is associated with psoriasis in men. Researchers also believe alcohol can worsen symptoms because it upsets the liver and may trigger the growth of Candida, a type of yeast that can worsen psoriasis symptoms.
Alcohol can also have dangerous side effects if mixed with certain medications used for treating psoriasis.
People with psoriasis who live in colder climates know that winter makes symptoms worse. The extreme cold and dryness of certain weather will pull moisture from your skin, inflaming symptoms.
This study shows that people with fairer complexions are typically more likely to develop psoriasis than people with a darker complexion.
Many treatments are available to manage pain and symptoms of psoriasis. Treatments you can try at home include:
- using a dehumidifier
- soaking in a bath with Epsom salts
- taking dietary supplements
- changing your diet
Other treatments include:
- topical creams and ointments
- drugs to suppress your immune system
- phototherapy, a procedure in which your skin is carefully exposed to natural or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light
- pulsed dye laser, a process that destroys tiny blood vessels in areas around psoriasis plaques, cutting off blood flow and reducing cell growth in that area
Among the new treatments for psoriasis are oral treatments and biologics.
The causes of psoriasis aren’t fully known, but risk factors and triggers are well documented. Researchers continue to uncover more about this condition. While there may not be a cure, there are many treatments available to manage pain and symptoms.