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What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis (sore-eye-ah-sis) is a common medical condition that occurs when skin cells grow too quickly. The result can be see as inflamed, thickened and scaly areas of skin. It can also affect other areas, such as finger and toe nails.

In some cases the person may also have some sore and inflamed joints at the same time. When this occurs, it is called psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriasis is not an infection and it is not contagious, it cannot be spread by touch or being close to a person with psoriasis. Although it can look like a rash, it really isn’t.

Psoriasis may seem to be only skin deep, but it does start inside the body – it is caused by over-activity of your body’s immune system. The extra inflammation makes the skin cells grow and multiply to quickly. The body is not able to shed these excess skin cells, so they pile up on the surface of the skin.

The most common form of psoriasis appears as raised, red, itchy patches called plaques that are covered with a layer of flaky, silvery-white dead skin cells called scales.

Types of psoriasis

There are 5 types of psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis is the most common.

Plaque Psoriasis

The most common form of psoriasis, with approximately 80% of patients suffering from plaque psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis presents as raised red lesions covered by silvery white dead skin cells. It typically shows up on the scalp, knees, lower back and elbows. It can often be painful and itchy and has a tendency to crack and bleed.

Guttate Psoriasis

Guttate psoriasis often starts in childhood or young adulthood and presents as small pink dots on the torso, arms, and legs.

Inverse Psoriasis

This type of psoriasis appears as bright red lesions that are shiny and smooth in body folds, such as behind the knee, in armpits, under the breast, in the groin and other skin fold places. Most people with inverse psoriasis will have another type of psoriasis at the same time on another part of the body.

Pustular Psoriasis

Mostly found in adults, pustular psoriasis appears as white blisters of noninfectious pus surround by red skin. Pustular psoriasis is non-contagious and can appear on any part of the body, but occurs most often on hands and feet.

Erythrodermic Psoriasis

A severe form of psoriasis that affects most of the body with widespread redness of the skin and shedding of scales of the sheets. Commonly occurs on people who have unstable plaque psoriasis.  It is a rare form of psoriasis affecting approximately 3% of people suffering psoriasis during their lifetime.

How is psoriasis diagnosed?

Being given a formal diagnosis is important. There are other skin conditions that can be mistaken for psoriasis. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and then help you treat the condition with the right medication, etc. You and your general practitioner should also discuss the possibility of being referred to a dermatologist for specialist care.

Your doctor will discuss your medical history and conduct a physical examination, focusing on your skin, nails, and scalp. Your doctor will also work out how much of your body is covered in the plaques.

It is possible that you will be referred to a dermatologist or rheumatologist for specialised treatment options and further tests.

Psoriasis tends to have periods when it flares up and you will experience more symptoms, while at other times it may seem to be dormant and hence you will notice fewer symptoms. Unfortunately psoriasis does not go away completely and there is no cure available.

Psoriasis can affect people in different ways. The severity and extent varies from person to person and can fluctuate a lot or just a little over time. Learning to cope with your condition can also mean learning how to better manage other people’s reaction to it.

Can I get psoriasis?

Anyone can get psoriasis and there is no known reason as to how and why it occurs. There are approximately 125 million people around the world with psoriasis, affecting males and females equally.

People with early-onset psoriasis, usually display symptoms before the age of 40, with a peak onset at 16-22 years of age. Onset before the age of 40 indicates a greater genetic susceptibility. Late on-set psoriasis, usually appears at or after 40 years of age with a peak age of onset between 57 and 60 years.

What causes psoriasis?

No one knows exactly what causes psoriasis. It is know that a person’s immune system and genes play a role and scientists are still trying to find which genes are involved. However, it is known that some people development psoriasis without having a history of the illness in the family. So for psoriasis to appear, it seems that a person must inherit the ‘right’ mix of genes and also must be exposed to a trigger that starts the development of symptoms. Hence, just because you have psoriasis, does not mean that your children will also have it.

Is there a cure for psoriasis?

There is no cure at present, but with new medicines and comprehensive care of your condition, psoriasis can be controlled so that the symptoms are reduced or cleared for a period of time.