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What is psoriasis?

Posted on October 10, 2018

Psoriasis is a fairly common inflammatory skin condition which affects around 2% of the UK population.  It’s characterised by flaky pink or red patches of skin with silvery-white scales.  These patches can appear anywhere on the body, but are often on the knees, elbows, trunk and scalp. They are sometimes itchy and sore.

Psoriasis can be very severe in some people. Sometimes it can cover large parts of their body, causing considerable impact to their quality of life.  In other people, psoriasis is a relatively minor irritation which comes and goes.

Psoriasis is not contagious so can’t be transmitted from one person to another.

What causes psoriasis?

Doctors aren’t sure what causes the condition, although it’s likely genetics and the immune system are key factors.  People with psoriasis have skin cells which are made and replaced more quickly than normal.  In most people, skin cells are made and replaced every 3 or 4 weeks. But in people with psoriasis, the cells are made and replaced every few days.  This causes a build-up of skin cells which creates flaky and sore areas of skin.

Some people may notice “triggers” which can cause their psoriasis to flare up.  These triggers may include stress, heavy alcohol use, injury (including cuts, vaccinations and sunburn) and certain medications.

What is psoriatic arthritis?

According to the British Skin Foundation, around one in three people with moderate psoriasis will develop this form of arthritis. It causes swelling and often painful stiffness in the joints.  This pain is usually in the hands, feet, knees, elbows, neck and spine or lower back.  The severity of the arthritis varies from person to person.  Some people may experience pain in one or two of their joints, but others may have severe problems affecting multiple joints.

Is psoriasis linked to other conditions?

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis increase your risk of developing certain health conditions.  These include certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, metabolic disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Is there a cure?

The short answer is no, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can’t be cured.  However, treatments are usually available to help alleviate the pain and keep the conditions under control.  If you have psoriasis, your Doctor is likely to consider three main treatments. The first is topical, which may involve the use of skin creams and ointments.  The second is phototherapy, where skin is exposed to types of UV light.  Phototherapy is sometimes used to treat psoriasis in people who are unable to take medications – for example, during pregnancy.  And the third is systemic, which involves injected medications like steroids.  In some cases, your Doctor may decide to refer you to a dermatologist or skin specialist.