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Health and Fitness News

Psoriasis in Perspective

Learn the symptoms, causes, and treatments for this skin condition.

Exactly why the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells is unknown, but this is what happens when someone has psoriasis. Skin cells build up at a faster rate than normal, causing itchy, sometimes painful, scaly skin and red patches. A chronic disease with no cure, psoriasis comes and goes as it pleases. Thankfully, learning to manage symptoms is possible.

When it comes to the symptoms, causes, and treatments for this skin condition, here’s what you need to know.

Presenting Psoriasis

No two people have the exact same experience with psoriasis, but the most common symptoms include red patches on the skin that are covered with silvery scales; dry and cracked skin; itching, stinging, or burning sensations; stiff and swollen joints; and thick, ridged nails.

The telltale red patches of psoriasis are most often found on the elbows, scalp, or knees, but can appear on the face, hands, feet, genitals, armpits, or under the breasts. Sometimes the patches are small and barely noticeable, while at other times the disease covers large areas of the body. Depending on the type of psoriasis you have (plaque, guttate, inverse, pustular, or erythrodermic), the flares may last a few weeks or months and then disappear only to flare up months or years later. Regardless of how often or prolonged your flare-ups, the experience is miserable without proper treatment.

Bringing on the Spots

Psoriasis is thought to be the result of an overactive immune system that causes skin cells to grow at an extra-fast rate, as if they’re trying to fight a skin infection or heal a wound. The condition also seems to have a genetic component. One third of people with psoriasis have a family member who also has it. For someone to develop psoriasis, he or she must have the right gene combination in addition to being exposed to certain environmental triggers. Psoriasis is not contagious, so you can’t get it by touching someone’s red, scaly patches.

Certain things are known to trigger or worsen flare-ups. These include stress, smoking, an injury to the skin, viral or bacterial infection, vitamin D deficiency, heavy drinking, obesity, or medications. What triggers one person’s psoriasis may not trigger someone else’s, and understanding your specific case is necessary to avoid and treat flare-ups.


Have a rash that won’t go away? Make an appointment to see your doctor. While there are no specific tests to diagnose psoriasis, a dermatologist can determine if you have the skin disease by examining your skin. A biopsy may be needed to differentiate between psoriasis and eczema.

There are three main types of psoriasis treatments: topical agents, light therapies, and systemic medications. The kind of treatment you receive depends on the type of psoriasis you have and the location of the skin lesions. Treatment focuses on reducing inflammation and restoring your skin to normal as soon as possible.

The first line of treatment for mild psoriasis is topical creams or lotions. Corticosteroid creams, vitamin D lotions, medicated ointments, coal tar, moisturizers, salicylic acid, and topical retinoids all aim at reducing inflammation, relieving itching, and slowing skin cell growth.

Exposure to natural or artificial ultraviolet light is another form of treatment that works to lessen inflammation and reduce scaling. Light therapies are often used in addition to topical agents.

Medications are the final form of treatment. Taken either orally or administered by injection, drugs are given when psoriasis covers large areas of the body or when other types of treatment fail to work. Because of the risk of negative side effects, medications are used short-term as a last resort.