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Can You Recognize Psoriasis?

Saturday, October 29, 2016 8:02 AM

Recognizing psoriasis amongst other skin problems can be difficult. Earlier this year, our patients chatted online with Dr. Stephanie Mehlis, Dermatologist and the Director of the Dermatology Clinical Trials Unit at NorthShore, about diagnosis and treating the condition. On World Psoriasis Day, she provides more insight below:

What is psoriasis? Is it a common condition?
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that affects about 2% of the population. It causes thick red, scaly, and itchy plaques on the skin and is often found on the elbows, knees, other parts of the legs, scalp, lower back, face, palms, and soles of the feet, but they can show up other places such as fingernails, toenails, genitals, and inside the mouth. 

Who gets psoriasis?
Anyone can get psoriasis, but it occurs more often in adults. In many cases, there is a family history of psoriasis. Certain genes have been linked to the disease. Men and women get psoriasis at about the same rate.

What causes psoriasis?
Psoriasis begins in the immune system, mainly with a type of white blood cell called a T cell that become so active that they set off other immune responses. This leads to swelling and fast turnover of skin cells. People with psoriasis may notice that sometimes the skin gets better and sometimes it gets worse. Things that can cause the skin to get worse include:

  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Changes in weather that dry the skin
  • Certain medications

How can I tell psoriasis apart from other skin conditions like eczema?
Psoriasis will show up a little later than eczema, which has a history of appearing in childhood. Psoriasis plaques have very sharply defined edges and appear on different areas of the skin than eczema. Typical psoriasis spots are on the scalp, elbows, buttocks and knees.

Is psoriasis a chronic condition?
Yes - this is considered an autoimmune disease, which means it's lifelong.

How is psoriasis treated?
Psoriasis treatment, which is used to block inflammation in the skin, is treated in different ways. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease, the size of the patches, the type of psoriasis and the patient's response to treatment. These include:

  • Topic - Applied on the skin.
  • Light therapy - Natural or artificial ultraviolet light.
  • Systematic treatment - Oral medication (for severe cases).
  • Biologic - Any form of treatment that uses the body's natural abilities to fight infection or to protect against side effects. This is done through an injection.
  • Combination - Combines topical, light and systematic treatments in lower doses.

Are there any lifestyle changes to make to relieve symptoms?
Psoriasis patients commonly suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and an increased risk of heart attacks. Typically, there is a high rate of tobacco use in psoriasis patients. Having a well-balanced, healthy diet with exercise is very important, especially for psoriatic patients.