Facts About Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a non-contiguous, chronic disease of the immune system that affects an estimated 125 million people worldwide. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis.
Psoriasis is the most prevalent autoimmune disease in the U.S.
Psoriasis generally appears as patches of raised, red skin covered by flaky, white build-up of dead skin cells. These patches, or plaques, most often appear on the scalp, knees, elbows and torso. They are often itchy and painful, and they can crack and bleed.
There are five types of psoriasis:
Plaque: Most common form of the disease, in which patches of skin become inflamed and are covered by silvery, white scales,
Guttate: Appears as small red spots on the skin,
Inverse: Occurs in armpits, groin and skin folds,
Pustular: White blisters surrounded by red skin,
Erythrodermic: Intense redness over large areas,
Psoriasis frequently occurs with a range of other health concerns including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, metabolic syndrome, Crohn’s disease, obesity, hypertension and depression.
The cause of psoriasis is unknown. Most researchers agree that the immune system in people affected by psoriasis is somehow mistakenly triggered, which speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells.
Triggers can include emotional stress, injury to the skin, smoking, some types of infection or a reaction to treatment with certain drugs.
Psoriasis affects both genders equally. It can strike at any age, although it commonly appears between the ages of 15 and 35. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of people with psoriasis get it before age 10. The disease rarely appears in infants.
No special blood tests or diagnostic tools exist to diagnose psoriasis. Physicians and health care providers usually examine the affected skin to make a diagnosis. Less often, they may examine a piece of skin (biopsy) under a microscope.
Psoriasis can be mild, moderate or severe. One way to measure severity is by the coverage on the body’s surface area. Typically:
One palm-sized lesion is one percent of body surface area.
Mild cases involve 1 to 2 percent skin coverage.
Moderate is 3 to 10 percent coverage.
Severe is more than 10 percent coverage.
Psoriasis severity is also measured by how the disease affects a person’s quality of life. Many people with psoriasis report trouble sleeping, walking, sitting or standing for long periods of time, as well as difficulty using their hands. Psoriasis can have a serious impact even if it involves a small area such as the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
In addition to the physical impact, psoriasis exacts an emotional toll. People with psoriasis report feeling self-conscious, embarrassed and helpless, and have increased thoughts of suicide.
Treating psoriasis can be challenging because of its unpredictable nature. A wide range of treatments are available, but no single psoriasis treatment works for everyone. Treatments include topical creams or ointments, phototherapy (exposure to ultraviolet light) and oral and injected medications. Some people find relief with alternative treatments such as acupuncture, dietary supplements and meditation.
There is no cure for psoriasis.