Psoriasis is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease (when the immune system becomes overactive) that causes red, itchy, scaly patches on your skin. This makes your skin cells grow more quickly than usual and creates thick patches on your skin.
Usually, skin cells grow and then fall off your body in about a month. When you have psoriasis, skin cells cycle in just three to four days. Because of the speed, the skin cells pile up on top of the skin’s surface instead of falling off.
These patches may appear red with silvery white scales on lighter skin or brown or purple with gray or brown scales on darker skin.
Psoriasis is usually chronic (ongoing) meaning it can’t be cured and can flare up unexpectedly, but treatment can help keep symptoms under control.
There are several types of psoriasis, and symptoms vary depending on which type you have.
It's unclear exactly what causes the immune system issues leading to psoriasis. Most likely, genetics plays a role. Psoriasis runs in families (can be found in about 40% of all cases), but it can skip a generation. It often starts between ages 15 and 25, but you can get psoriasis at any age and is most common in adults. Psoriasis affects both men and women equally.
Environmental factors are also probably part of the cause. We know that smoking increases your risk and makes psoriasis more severe. Psoriasis is not contagious, so you can't catch it from other people.
Psoriasis can also be linked to other health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, atherosclerosis, obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and other autoimmune diseases.
If you have a skin condition that concerns you, see your primary care provider or a dermatologist (skin doctor). It’s important to see your provider if your symptoms are severe or painful, or if you’re concerned about how your skin looks.
Your health care provider will check to see if you have psoriasis or another skin condition - its symptoms are similar to eczema, lupus, rosacea, shingles and ringworm. They will ask if you have other family members with psoriasis.
To diagnose psoriasis, your provider will check how much skin is affected, how many patches you have, how painful they are and where on the body they are located. They might remove a small piece of skin, called a biopsy, to send to a lab for testing.
If you have psoriasis, you’ll want a treatment to stop your cells from growing so quickly. Your doctor will create a treatment plan based on your symptoms, their severity and your medical history. You may find that a combination of treatments works best for you.
Treatments you apply topically (directly to the affected skin) are usually the first choice for mild or moderate psoriasis (psoriasis covering less than 10% of your body):
Doctors often recommend light therapy for moderate to severe psoriasis (psoriasis covering more than 10% of your body). You might benefit from exposure to:
If other treatments aren’t working, drugs that you take as a pill (orally), injection (shot) or intravenously (IV) might be options:
Modifying your lifestyle can also be a type of treatment of psoriasis, since it can help keep psoriasis from flaring. You may find it helps to:
When you have psoriasis, treat your skin well. It’s important to clean your skin gently, keep it moisturized and avoid harsh or irritating products. Take warm (not hot) baths and add oil to the water to seal moisture into your skin.
Even with treatment, psoriasis may return sometimes. Flares can last from a few weeks to a few months. To keep your psoriasis under control, you’ll want to identify your triggers and take steps to avoid them. Some of the most common psoriasis triggers are:
It’s a good idea to work closely with your health care team. They can help you find ways to track your symptoms and monitor triggers. With that information, they can help you create a personalized psoriasis plan.
Many people who have psoriasis also have heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol or depression. You may also have inflammation (swelling) in part of your eye (called conjunctivitis, blepharitis or uveitis, depending on the part of the eye that’s affected).
If you have psoriasis, you’re more likely to have another autoimmune condition, such as celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, thyroid problems or Crohn’s disease. And about 10% to 20% of people with psoriasis also have an autoimmune disorder called psoriatic arthritis that affects their joints. When both of these diseases occur at the same time, it's called psoriatic disease.
When you have psoriasis, you may have anxiety, depression or low self-esteem because of how your skin looks during a flare. You are not alone. Here are some resources where you can get more information and connect with other people who understand your experiences, so you can find the emotional support you need.
At Banner Health, our expert providers understand how hard it can be to live with psoriasis. They can work with you to keep your skin as healthy as possible.