Psoriasis Types and the Autoimmune Response

Psoriasis is a skin condition related to an overly active immune system. It occurs when skin cells grow too quickly. People with psoriasis develop dry and scaly patches of skin that are most often found on the scalp, elbows, or knees.1-3

Unfortunately, there is no known cause for psoriasis. Experts believe genetic and environmental factors play a role. Psoriasis can develop in anyone at any age, but it is more common in adults than children.1-3

Symptoms of psoriasis

Psoriasis symptoms vary from one person to another and depend on the type. Symptoms may occur in a cycle of worsening (flare) and then getting better (remission). The most common symptoms include:1

  • Patches of thick, red skin with silvery-white scales that may burn or itch
  • Dry and cracked skin that may itch or bleed
  • Thick, pitted nails with ridges

Types of psoriasis

There are 6 main types of psoriasis:1,2

  • Plaque psoriasis – This is the most common type. It causes raised patches of scaly skin that are dry and itchy. The patches of skin may appear red or covered by silvery-white scales.
  • Nail psoriasis – This type causes abnormally grown nails with pitting and discoloration. It can affect both the fingernails and toenails. In some cases, the nail can separate from the nail bed or even crumble.
  • Guttate psoriasis – Affecting mainly children and young adults, this type appears as small, drop-shaped spots on the torso, arms, and legs. This form of psoriasis is usually triggered by a bacterial infection.
  • Inverse psoriasis – This type appears as smooth, red patches of skin. It is most often found in areas with folding skin, such as the groin, buttocks, or underneath the breasts and armpits. Rubbing and sweating can make it worsen. It is usually triggered by fungal infections.
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis – This is a rare type of psoriasis. It can last for a short or long time. It can cause a peeling rash all over the body that may itch or burn. It is mostly triggered by sunburn or certain medications. This form of psoriasis more often occurs in those who have other types of uncontrolled psoriasis.
  • Pustular psoriasis – Red, pus-filled blisters or pimples (pustules) appear with this type of psoriasis. Affected areas more commonly include the hands and feet, although in some cases it can affect the entire body. Pustular psoriasis can be triggered by stress, infection, and certain medicines or chemicals.

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Another serious condition that is highly related to psoriasis is psoriatic arthritis. This type of arthritis causes swollen, stiff, and painful joints. More than 1 in 6 people with psoriasis have or will develop psoriatic arthritis. The condition can be difficult to diagnose and is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.1-3

How is the immune system related to psoriasis?

Experts know that the immune system plays a role in psoriasis. In response to certain triggers, the immune system becomes overly active and begins to fight against healthy cells in the body. This is known as an autoimmune response.1-3

This response involves changes to the blood vessels, skin cells, and white blood cells. These changes lead to the rapid growth of skin cells, inflammation, and the characteristic symptoms of psoriasis.1-3

Common triggers of psoriasis include injuries to the skin such as insect bites, sunburn, or infection. Stress can also trigger a flare. Experts do not fully understand why the immune system is overactive in people with psoriasis.1-3

Treatment for psoriasis

While there is no cure for psoriasis, there are therapies available to help you manage your symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe drugs or a therapy where your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light (phototherapy). Other ways to help you manage your symptoms and reduce flares include:1

  • Keeping skin moisturized
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding or quitting smoking
  • Drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol
  • Avoiding any known triggers such as stress

See your doctor regularly to decide what treatment options are available to you and how you can keep your symptoms under control.

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Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.

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