description and symptoms
Psoriasis sufferers produce new skin cells at a much faster rate than normal, resulting in a raised, red patch of skin, which can be overlaid with white or silver scales.
Chronic plaque psoriasis is the most common type and most often occurs on the elbows and knees, scalp, lower back, genitals, and can sometimes occur on the trunk and limbs. The nails can also be affected and can appear like a fungal infection.
Psoriasis of the scalp will affect most people who develop psoriasis. Scaliness occurs around the hairline, and is often itchy. A family history of psoriasis is common.
who does it affect?
Infection, sunburn, stress, hormonal changes or taking certain medications can aggravate the problem.
Drugs such as lithium and withdrawal from cortisone treatment are thought to exacerbate psoriasis, as well as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption. Beta-blockers, antimalarials, and NSAIDs also have been implicated.
Information from the National Psoriasis Foundation statesthat psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder.
Another theory indicates that it's not a true "skin" problem;that a sluggish elimination system is unable to cope and the toxins eventually make their way out through the skin.
Diet and lifestyle is believed to play a significant role.
Mild cases can be treated with lubricating creams or oils.
Topical steroid based treatments are often used but long term use can cause side effects such as stretch marks and irritate healthy skin.
Sudden cessation of treatment can worsen the condition and the skin can become thinner, increasing the risk of infections.
Coal tar treatments are also used but their use has been controversial.
A lawsuit was filed in California in March 2001, claiming that warnings need to be clear on coal tar products because they contain chemicals "known to the state" to be carcinogens.
Information about the lawsuit and its outcome has become increasingly difficult to find, including links to previously available infomation online.
Ultraviolet light therapy is used for more severe cases, but side effects include redness, itching and nausea. Long term treatment may cause premature ageing of the skin or cataracts. Increased risk of skin cancer is possible. Sunlight can be beneficial.
Anthralin is also used as a topical treatment, but it should be used with caution, as it can be irritating. It is advised to use a short contact treatment where anthralin is washed off 30 minutes after application.
Oral retinoids such as Soriatane (acitretin) is used to treat severe forms of psoriasis.
However, side effects include severe birth defects if taken during pregnancy, and pregnancy is not advised for three years after discontinuing this treatment.
It is not yet known whether pregnancies occurring where the male partner is undergoing this treatment, are likely to result in birth defects.
Patients undergoing treatment are also not permitted to donate blood for at least three years after discontinuing treatment.
Topical retinoids such as Tazorac warn of similar side effects to oral retinoids i.e. birth defects.
For more severe cases, oral cortisone based drugs are often prescribed. However, common side effects include weight gain, disturbed sleep patterns, indigestion, increased blood sugar and blood pressure, development and aggravation of peptic ulcers and thinning and bruising of the skin.
For more resistant cases, immunosuppressants have been used, although these types of drugs have not been approved for treatment of psoriasis in the US.
Anti cancer drugs such as Methotrexate have been used to treat stubborn cases, but side effects include nausea, loss of appetite, possible hair loss, birth defects and liver damage.
Anti rejection drugs, such as Cyclosporine, given to organ transplant recipients are believed to be effective, but side effects can result in increased hair growth, shaking hands, kidney damage and high blood pressure, and the long term effects are still being studied.
Psoriasis cannot be completely cured but it can be kept under control and outbreaks kept to a minimum.
Scratching dry scaly skin may worsen the scaly area; soak scaly areas in warm water and use gentle pressure only, to remove dead skin with a soft face cloth.
Creams and ointments will absorb better once dead skin has been removed.
Leave skin moist after bathing and apply a natural moisturiser, such as a cold pressed vegetable oil. Massage in gently, to keep patches moist.
Aloe vera and jojoba may also prevent further itching.
Place half a cup of oatmeal in a stocking and suspend in the bathwater, to soothe the skin.
If possible, expose the affected area to mild sunlight, taking care to avoid sunburn.
Exercise daily for psoriatic arthritis, to prevent stiffness.
Avoid triggers, such as alcohol and stress, which are known to exacerbate the condition.