Learn About Psoriasis

If you have a skin disorder called psoriasis, you are not alone. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, more than 7 million people in the United States have this non-contagious, autoimmune disease.

Symptoms of Psoriasis

Psoriasis can present itself in a variety of forms, but the most prevalent form of psoriasis is called "plaque psoriasis." Often confused with other skin irritations, such as ringworm or eczema, plaque psoriasis shows up as red, raised patches covered by a whitish scale. Plaque psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body, but it most commonly appears on the scalp, torso, elbows and knees and rarely on the face.

Causes of Psoriasis

Your genes and immune system play a major role in the onset of psoriasis. Genetic and immunology research suggests that psoriasis sufferers have certain genes that cause their immune system to react to certain external factors or "triggers." Known triggers include stress, medication, alcohol or injuries to the skin. Suspected triggers include allergies, diet and the weather. In any event, the trigger causes the immune system to send abnormal signals to the skin cells, making them replicate four times faster than normal and causing a build up of skin cells on the surface of the skin.

Severity of Psoriasis

Individuals who have psoriasis on less than three percent of their body have a mild case of it, whereas those who have the red patches on more than three percent but less than 10 percent of their bodies have a moderate case of psoriasis. Psoriasis on more than 10 percent of the body is considered severe.

Treatments for Psoriasis

Treatment options vary depending on the severity of psoriasis. Prescription steroid creams and over-the-counter topical treatments containing salicylic acid and coal tar are commonly used to treat mild cases of psoriasis. More aggressive treatments may be necessary to control moderate to severe psoriasis, such as light therapy and systemic medications, including acitretin, cyclosporine and methotrexate. These drugs are taken by mouth in capsule or liquid form. Biologic drugs such as Enbrel, Humira and Stelara also treat moderate to severe psoriasis. They work by blocking the abnormal signals that the immune system sends out to the skin cells. Biologic drugs are administered by injection or intravenously.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Nearly a third of psoriasis sufferers develop psoriatic arthritis, a painful, stiff swelling of the joints. It can show up anytime, but it usually occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 50. Treatments include prescription and over-the-counter non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Disease-modifying antirheumatic medications and biologic drugs may be used to treat moderate to severe psoriatic arthritis.