Psoriasis: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments
Psoriasis is a systemic, common inflammatory disease that is caused by genetics. Without treatment, the condition can become chronic. The disease is categorized by common symptoms including thick silvery scales that cover itchy plaques of reddened skin. The condition usually occurs on the scalp, knees, and elbows but can appear on the finger and toenails, torso and legs.
Psoriasis is not contagious because it is not caused by a bacterial or viral infection. In addition, the disease cannot be transmitted by person-to-person contact with affected skin. However, psoriasis is thought to be associated with other diseases and conditions including type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and psoriatic arthritis. Fortunately, there are viable treatment options that minimize symptoms associated with psoriasis.
- What Causes Psoriasis?
- Who Is at Risk for Psoriasis?
- Common Symptoms
- Diagnosing Psoriasis
- Psoriasis Treatments
Many psoriasis sufferers live a life of stress and embarrassment. However, even aggravated outbreaks of the disease are usually harmless. If the patient undergoes appropriate treatment, many of the signs and symptoms associated with psoriasis will subside in months. There are different forms of psoriasis that include:
- Psoriasis Vulgaris (plaque-forming)
- Pustular psoriasis (yellow plus build blisters)
- Inverse psoriasis (found in buttocks, groin, navel, and underarm folds)
- Guttate psoriasis (tiny spots)
- Palmoplantar psoriasis involving the soles of the feet and palms of the hands
- Erythrodermic psoriasis covering the entire surface of skin
What Causes Psoriasis?
Medical science has yet to determine the exact cause of psoriasis. Typically, normal skin takes approximately one month to reproduce new or healthy skin cells before shedding away the old ones. However, plaque psoriasis is developed by the body when its immune system is overactive. This over activity triggers the inflammation of the skin and causes the skin cells to reproduce much faster than normal. Instead of taking one month to produce a new cell, the body then produces it in 3 to 5 days.
Unfortunately, the body is unable to shed away the new cells fast enough to make way for the newer cells being created. This causes the newest cells to stack up over the cells recently made without shutting off any dead skin cells. This pileup of newly formed cells over dead cells causes a raised reddened area called plaque.
Who Is at Risk for Psoriasis?
Psoriasis affects both genders and all races equally. The condition is often found in individuals of any age from newborns to senior citizens. Usually, the first diagnosis of the condition occurs in early adult years.
There are numerous risk factors associated with psoriasis including infection, trauma and emotional stress. Many individuals experience an episode of psoriasis due to a recent emotional trauma including the death of a loved one, a change in workplaces, or relationship issues. Many doctors suggest that these external stressors are triggering factors in individuals who have been inherited an immune function defect. Other known risk factors include:
- Prescription Medications – Taking certain medications are known to aggravate psoriasis, especially beta-blockers to treat high blood pressure, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), like Motrin or Advil and hydroxychloroquine used to treat malaria.
- Family History – Individuals with a family history of psoriasis tend to be at higher risk for developing the disease. However, psoriasis often skips a generation where the disease is handed down to a grandson from a grandfather. Women tend not to be affected if their father developed a skin disease.
- Medical Conditions – Recent studies have revealed that psoriasis occurs more often in individual suffering from some conditions including cardiovascular disease, high blood lipids, diabetes, and other inflammatory diseases.
The symptoms associated with psoriasis differ between individuals and the classification of the condition. Some individuals experience only a small amount of flakes on the elbow or scalp while others might be completely covered with the skin condition. The most common psoriasis symptoms include:
- Inflamed, raised, reddened patches of skin
- Pitted, thickened nails
- Burning and itching sensation on or around the psoriasis patch
- Psoriasis patch soreness
- Dry skin that bleeds and cracks
- Red patch plaques or silvery white scales
- Swollen painful joints
Typically, individuals will only experience one or two of the symptoms listed above. Additionally, the condition tends to cycle through symptoms that may last for weeks on end or clear up within days. Usually, the condition will flare up during an emotional event or some type of skin trauma. Doctors refer to the disappearance of all symptoms as remission that might or might not recur in time.
A usually takes to examinations or tests to accurately diagnose a case of psoriasis. The doctor will complete a comprehensive physical examination to look for characteristics of psoriasis that distinguish it from other diseases, conditions and maladies that share similar symptoms. As a part of the examination, the doctor will obtain a family history to determine if other members of the family past or present have been diagnosed with the condition.
The doctor will also likely perform a biopsy by taking a small portion of skin in a suspected area and send it to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope. The results of that test can accurately diagnose psoriasis and rule out other potential infections, disorders or conditions. Biopsies are not painful. The doctor usually injects a numbing drug in the localized area and excises (cuts away) a small tissue sample.
Avoiding Psoriasis Triggers
There are many steps that an individual can take after receiving an accurate diagnosis of psoriasis. This includes avoiding possible triggers that could be causing a flare-up of the condition. Some of these triggering stressors include:
- Stress – Highly stressful events are known to trigger a flare-up of psoriasis. Learning how to manage or reduce stress levels can possibly prevent a flare up from occurring.
- Alcohol Consumption – Consuming mild to heavy levels of alcohol is known to trigger a flare up of the condition, especially if the individual drinks heavily or binge drinks. Reducing the amount of alcohol consumption is an easy solution for minimizing skin issues.
- Skin Injury – Traumatic injury to the skin including scrapes, cut, or burns can cause an outbreak of psoriasis. This includes sunburns, vaccinations, and injections.
- Drugs – Certain medications are known to trigger an outbreak of psoriasis including antimalarial drugs, lithium, and drugs for treating high blood pressure.
- Infection – Psoriasis develops when the immune system attacks healthy skin cells instead of protecting the body from viruses and bacteria. That said, if an infection is being fought off by the body, the immune system becomes overexcited while fighting the infection, which could cause an outbreak of psoriasis. Strep throat is also known to be a common trigger of the disease.
Even though there is no cure for psoriasis, doctors have numerous available treatment options to reduce inflammation, remove plaque, slow down the growth of skin cells, and minimize the development of scales. This includes:
- Topical corticosteroids
- Vitamin D
- Salicylic acid
- Topical retinoids
There are also ultraviolet and natural light therapies that destroy overactive white blood cells when they are attacking the development of new healthy cells. While some treatments for psoriasis provide a lifetime of relief, some individuals must change their treatments on occasion when the skin no longer responds to the medicine or therapy they are receiving.