August is National Psoriasis Awareness Month. Throughout this month, we raise awareness of the impact that this skin disease has on those who suffer from it and dispel myths and misconceptions associated with the disease. More than 8 million Americans have psoriasis according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), and worldwide, about 100 million individuals are affected. It’s the most common autoimmune disease in the county, yet the stigma that comes along with this chronic autoimmune disease is particularly damaging.
What is Psoriasis?
So what exactly is psoriasis? Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that makes your skin cells grow much faster than normal skin cells. The result of this rapid growth is extra skin, which causes unsightly and often painful, itchy, red patches. Often, those with psoriasis experience swollen, stiff joints, dry, cracked skin, or thickened, pitted, or ridged nails. Psoriasis can occur anywhere from one’s eyelids, feet, lips, and hands. In more severe cases, large parts of the body are covered while in mild cases, there are patches of skin that become dry and itchy.
Because there is no blood test to detect psoriasis, a dermatologist specializing in skin diseases can easily determine whether or not this is the cause of your discomfort. They can easily examine the affected skin in a biopsy. Psoriasis skin looks thicker and more inflamed compared to skin with eczema. Diagnosis generally occurs between 15 and 35 years old.
Causes of Psoriasis
Scientists have yet to determine the exact cause of psoriasis, but genetics seem to play a huge factor. Often, psoriasis is hereditary, meaning one-third of people with this condition have a family member with the disease as well. Because the disease shows up during the late stages of puberty, hormonal changes seem to be a major trigger. Alcohol and smoking can also double your risk while excess stress, which is directly congruent with immune system health, can be the reason for a psoriasis attack. Additionally, medications like lithium, Indocin, and Inderal are also known to make psoriasis worse; infections and HIV do the same.
Types of Psoriasis
There are a few different types of psoriasis: plaque, guttate, pustular, inverse, and erythrodermic. Each type has a different set of symptoms and challenges. Plaque psoriasis is the most common with over 80 percent of people with the condition living with this type. Red, inflamed, patches with whitish-silver scales or plaques that are commonly found on the elbows, knees, and scalp. Scratching the affected area makes symptoms worse. Guttate psoriasis is common in children and causes small pink spots along the torso, arms, and legs. Affecting 10 percent of those with psoriasis, this condition causes drop shaped-spots that not as thick as they are in plaque psoriasis, but if left untreated, guttate can easily develop into plaque psoriasis over time.
Alternatively, pustular psoriasis is more common in adults and causes puss-filled blisters to form on localized areas of the skin like hands and feet. Pustular psoriasis is cyclical in that those with it often experience periods of pustules and remission. They can also experience flu-like symptoms like fever, chill, rapid pulse, loss of appetite, and muscle weakness. Inverse psoriasis typically appears in skin folds and is red, shiny, and smooth. Natural moisture that forms in these areas makes it difficult for this form of psoriasis to shed scales and constant skin-to-skin contact causes discomfort. Often, this form of psoriasis is coupled with one of the other forms in another area of the body. Finally, the final kid of psoriasis is extremely rare and can be a medical emergency signaling that your body cannot control its temperature. Widespread, red, and scaly, erythrodermic psoriasis covers large portions of the body.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, up to 30 percent of those with psoriasis, develop psoriatic arthritis. This autoimmune disease can cause stiffness, pain, and swelling in one’s joints. It can occur when your body’s immune system “begins to attack healthy cells and tissue…. The abnormal immune response causes inflammation in your joints.” (1) Physical trauma can trigger psoriatic arthritis and your family history, age, and already having psoriasis are the biggest risk factors for this disease.
There is no cure for psoriasis, but you can manage your symptoms. Learning about your treatment options will make you ore informed and potentially allow you to keep things from getting worse. Watching your diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and drinking less alcohol will help you. Contact your dermatologist about potentially using a topical treatment like salicylic acid, steroid-based creams, coal-tar treatments, or prescription retinoids. You can also use PUVA (which is psoralen combined with Ultraviolet A light), Ultraviolet B light, or narrow-band UVB therapy. Paying attention to your stress levels and mood will also help.
National Psoriasis Awareness Month is important to disrupt the stigma of those living with psoriasis. In the event that you need to find transportation to your dermatologist appointment, contact ABBA Medical Transportation!