What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a disease that affects skin cells. This disease develops when the immune system sends the wrong signals to the skin cells, telling them to grow faster. So instead of new skin cells taking weeks to form, it takes days.

Instead of shedding the new skin cells, the body holds on to them. This causes the skin cells to accumulate on the skin surface.

These patches of unshed skin cells are psoriasis. While it may look contagious, it isn’t, so it can not be transferred through touch. Instead, it is inherited.

Types of psoriasis

If you have this disease, you will have one of the following:

  • Plaque (also called psoriasis vulgaris).
  • Guttate.
  • Inverse (also called flexural psoriasis or intertriginous psoriasis).
  • Pustular.
  • Erythrodermic (also called exfoliative psoriasis).

A person can have more than one type of this disease. Or they could have one type that morphs into another at a later time.

  Arm With Psoriasis
Top three (3) images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.*Photograph used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. J Am Acad Dermatol 2004;51:731-8.

**Photograph used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. J Am Acad Dermatol 2008;58:826-50.

Psoriasis: Who gets and causes

Who gets psoriasis?

If someone gets this disease, there is probably more than one person in their family who has it. Just because there is a family member with this disease doesn’t mean that other members will also get it.

This common disease affects about 7.5 million people in the United States. The most common is plaque psoriasis.

This disease can happen at any age, but it usually occurs between ages 15 and 30 or 50 and 60.
Caucasians are more likely to get this disease than other races. If an infant or a child gets the disease, it will most likely be inverse or guttate psoriasis.

What causes psoriasis?

Little is known about why this disease happens in the body, but we know it is not contagious. It can not be transferred through swimming in a pool or while having sex.

What scientists do know is that a person’s genes and immune system dictate whether they will have this disease or not. Certain genes have to interact for a person to get this disease.

This means that just because you inherit the genes for the disease doesn’t mean you will get it. When a person inherits the right kind of genes and is exposed to a trigger, they will probably get the disease.

Many people say that their psoriasis began after they experienced one of these common psoriasis triggers:

  • Stressful event
  • Strep throat
  • Taking medications like lithium or medicine to prevent malaria
  • Cold or dry weather
  • A cut, scratch or sunburn

Psoriasis: Diagnosis and treatment

How does a dermatologist diagnose psoriasis?

To have this disease diagnosed a dermatologist will:

  • Examine skin, nails and scalp of patient.
  • Ask about family history of the disease.
  • Ask whether the patient is experiencing any triggers. Like stress, illness or new medications.

If necessary, a dermatologist will remove some skin. They will then take the skin and put it under a microscope, confirming the diagnosis.

How do dermatologists treat psoriasis?

There are treatments for the disease, and they have many benefits. The treatments for the disease can help alleviate some of the symptoms, making the person feel better. Treatment can help a person improve their quality of life. It can also clear a person’s skin completely.

Because of constant research, there are a lot of treatments for this disease. To find the proper treatment for this condition a dermatologist needs to be consulted. While the treatments have their benefits, they also have side effects. Speaking with a dermatologist will allow you to find the best treatment for you that will fit your lifestyle.

Outcome

While there is a treatment, there is no cure. A person with this disease will have it for the rest of their lives. To find the correct treatment, you need to speak with a dermatologist. A dermatologist that treats this disease can help you actively manage it.

Actively managing your disease can help ease the effects it has on your daily life. This can also reduce your symptoms.

Psoriasis: Tips for managing

While it is a long-lasting disease, there are still some things you can do to help control it:

  • Knowledge. The more you know about your condition, the better you can manage it. Learning everything you can about psoriasis means you will be able to make informed decisions on how to treat the disease and what may trigger it. If you know and understand the triggers, you will know how to avoid them. It may also help to talk about your condition with others who have it too.
  • Taking care of yourself will also help control this disease. Taking care of yourself includes: eating healthy, no smoking, and drinking less. If you are a smoker, heavy drinker, or are overweight, this could make the condition worse, and it could also nullify the treatment. A person with this disease may have a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases. You need to take care of yourself.
  • Be mindful of your joints. If you have stiff or sore joints, it could be psoriatic arthritis. Anywhere from 10% to 30% of people this disease develop psoriatic arthritis. This arthritis can deform your joints. The sooner it is treated, prevents joint deformation and disability. So if you have psoriasis and your joints feel stiff or sore when you wake up in the morning, see a dermatologist.
  • Check your nails. Having problems with your nails could be a sign of psoriatic arthritis. If your nails begin to develop pitting, ridges, or a yellowish-orange color, consult a dermatologist. If your nails start to pull away from the nail bed, seek a dermatologist.
  • Watch how your mood changes. If you are feeling depressed, you should get help. People with psoriasis often feel depressed, anxious, and have suicidal ideations. Speaking to a support group will help you not feel alone. If there are no support groups in your area, try speaking with a mental health professional. Getting help with your mental health is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
  • Learn of your condition so you can learn about your treatment options. Some people decide not to treat their condition. Even if you make this decision, you should still know your options and make an informed decision.
  • Talk to your dermatologist about medication. Tell your doctor if you can’t afford the medicine. If you can’t afford the medicine, you may be able to get financial assistance.
  • If you decide that you want to stop taking the medication, consult your dermatologist. If you stop taking the medication cold turkey, it could cause a lot of problems. Stopping suddenly can morph one type of psoriasis into another, or it could make it more serious. For example, if you have plaque psoriasis and are taking methotrexate and then stop suddenly, your condition could worsen. It could become guttate or erythrodermic psoriasis. If the condition changes into another type can be dangerous and the same treatment might not work.

Related resources:

  Psoriasis Tribeca, NY

A fingertip unit equals the amount of medicine that you can spread on your fingertip, as shown in the photo below.

Psoriasis: Medication

If you use a psoriasis medicine to treat your skin, there will be directions to tell you how much to use. Most likely, it will you in milligrams, which can be confusing.

To make this easier. Dermatologists developed the fingertip unit. To do this method, you need the medication and a clean fingertip. A fingertip unit is the amount of medication you can put on your fingertip.

Depending on where the psoriasis is on your body, you will need a different number of fingertip units. For example, psoriasis on your scalp may require 3 fingertip units, while if it is on your elbow, you may only need one.

When you need to apply the medicine to your skin, look at the following table. It shows you how many fingertip units are needed for each location.

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