Written by AA Pharmacist
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes raised red skin covered with silvery scales. It can be accompanied with nail pitting or denting on the surface of the nail. These reddish areas may cause itchiness and upon scratching can cause the skin to bleed.
The condition is caused by skin cells that grow and multiply faster than the normal rate. Psoriasis patients are also more prone to get other health conditions for e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart attacks. 10-30% of psoriatic patient will develop psoriatic arthritis (a form of joint inflammation that most commonly develop post psoriasis diagnosis).
What are the symptoms?
Psoriasis symptoms differ from person to person and depend on the type of psoriasis. Areas of psoriasis can be as small as a few flakes on the scalp or elbow, or cover the majority of the body.
The most common symptoms of plaque psoriasis include:
- red, raised, inflamed patches of skin
- whitish-silver scales or plaques on the red patches
- dry skin that may crack and bleed
- soreness around patches
- itching and burning sensations around patches
- thick, pitted nails
- painful, swollen joints
Patients often get psoriasis around 20-30 and 50-60 years old. Family members of psoriasis patients is more likely to get the disease. Psoriatic patient often states that ‘stress’ being a trigger for psoriasis while other risk factors like smoking, infections and certain medications are also observed. These triggers aren’t the same for everyone. They may also change over time for you.
Unusually high stress may trigger a flare-up. If you learn to reduce and manage your stress, you can reduce and possibly prevent flare-ups.
Heavy alcohol use can trigger psoriasis flare-ups. If you excessively use alcohol, psoriasis outbreaks may be more frequent. Reducing alcohol consumption is smart for more than just your skin too. Your doctor can help you form a plan to quit drinking if you need help.
An accident, cut, or scrape may trigger a flare-up. Shots, vaccines, and sunburns can also trigger a new outbreak.
Some medications are considered psoriasis triggers. These medications include:
- antimalarial medications
- high blood pressure medication
Psoriasis is caused, at least in part, by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy skin cells. If you’re sick or battling an infection, your immune system will go into overdrive to fight the infection. This might start another psoriasis flare-up. Strep throat is a common trigger
Treatment options for psoriasis
Psoriasis has no cure. Treatments aim to reduce inflammation and scales, slow the growth of skin cells, and remove plaques. Psoriasis treatments fall into three categories:
- Topical treatments
Creams and ointments applied directly to the skin can be helpful for reducing mild to moderate psoriasis. Topical psoriasis treatments include:
- topical corticosteroids
- topical retinoids
- vitamin D analogues
- salicylic acid
- Systemic medications
People with moderate to severe psoriasis, and those who haven’t responded well to other treatment types, may need to use oral or injected medications. Many of these medications have severe side effects. Doctors usually prescribe them for short periods of time. These medications include:
- cyclosporine (Sandimmune)
- Light therapy
This psoriasis treatment uses ultraviolet (UV) or natural light. Sunlight kills the overactive white blood cells that are attacking healthy skin cells and causing the rapid cell growth. Both UVA and UVB light may be helpful in reducing symptoms of mild to moderate psoriasis.
Most people with moderate to severe psoriasis will benefit from a combination of treatments. This type of therapy uses more than one of the treatment types to reduce symptoms. Some people may use the same treatment their entire lives. Others may need to change treatments occasionally if their skin stops responding to what they’re using.