What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common skin problem. When you have psoriasis, your outer layer of skin makes new cells more rapidly than normal. The extra cells become thick, rough, dry areas of skin, called plaques.

People of all ages can have psoriasis. It is not contagious. It’s a chronic disease, which means you will have it all of your life.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of psoriasis is not known. It may be an immune system disorder. The immune system is your body’s defense against infection. When you have psoriasis, your immune system may react when you are exposed to certain things such as:

  • A skin injury, such as a cut, burn, rash, or insect bite
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol (more than 1 drink a day for women, or more than 2 drinks a day for men)
  • Friction from clothing
  • Stress
  • Strep throat

You are more likely to have psoriasis if other members of your family have it.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Rough, dry, thick patches of skin (plaques) that may be covered with silvery-white scales. Often the skin under the plaques is slightly red. Most patches appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks, and scalp, but they can develop anywhere on the skin. Patches can itch, but scratching them often causes the patches to get thicker.
  • Pits or dents in your nails, crumbling nails, or very thick and misshapen nails

Rather than patches, some people have many small, droplike, scaly areas. This is called guttate or raindrop psoriasis and it most often appears on the back.

The symptoms of psoriasis can vary from small patches with no itching up to large areas covered with plaque and severe itching, redness, and fever.

Some people may also have arthritis (joint pain) with psoriasis.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine your skin and nails. You may have a skin biopsy, which is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing.

How is it treated?

Your treatment depends on your symptoms. Your healthcare provider may recommend or prescribe a cream or ointment to rub on your skin.

Severe psoriasis may require medicines that help keep your immune system from making extra skin cells. Your healthcare provider may prescribe light therapy in addition to your medicines. This may be done using ultraviolet (UV) light or using lasers. These light treatments destroy the blood vessels beneath the psoriasis plaques and makes it less likely the plaques will return.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider before you stop taking medicine for psoriasis. If you suddenly stop taking a medicine, it may cause a more severe type of psoriasis.
  • Try to avoid skin injuries. Plaques may develop in places where your skin has been injured. When you do hurt your skin, protect it from infection.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about getting the right amount of sun exposure for your skin.
  • Ask your provider to suggest soaps, lotions, and cosmetics to take care of your skin.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

You can get more information from:

How can I help prevent psoriasis?

Because the cause of psoriasis is not known, it’s not possible to prevent it. However, you may be able to prevent serious outbreaks by treating small plaques when you first see them. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for treatment.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-10
Last reviewed: 2014-10-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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