Psoriasis Pain and Depression
Last updated: November 2021
Those who live with psoriasis also live with chronic pain. That's right, psoriasis can be painful. Aside from the debilitating itch, those who live with this chronic condition describe their painful skin with words such as, aching, burning, stabbing, throbbing, cramping, and stinging.
Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition. It causes skin cells to grow too fast and build up into patches, called plaques. Inflammation, regardless of the body part it affects can cause pain, discomfort, and distress. Inflammation causes pain because it pushes against sensitive nerve endings. This process sends signals to the brain and a person feels pain.
Chronic pain and psoriasis
Psoriasis progresses differently in different people. Psoriasis plaques can also be painful because they cause the skin to be tight, red, and itchy. Plaques can also become cracked and dry, causing further pain. Additionally, you experience pain as a result of scratching. Scratching may lead to broken skin, bleeding, and infection.
Many psoriasis patients are able to successfully manage their pain using over-the-counter pain medications or prescription pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications. For some people, the pain of psoriasis may further limit their activities. Experts recommend working with your medical team to develop strategies to manage pain if you experience pain even when you are taking pain medication.
Chronic pain & depression
Depression is a common symptom for people dealing with chronic illnesses as well as chronic pain. Pain is perceived as a danger and triggers our threat—our fight or flight—response. Our bodies are wired to flee threats. But pain is an internal signal, and we tend to experience heightened stress, anxiety, and fear in the face of long-standing pain, especially when we can’t escape it.
The challenge is that in an effort to call attention to the “threat” that is our pain, our body becomes more sensitive to the pain signals. The more anxiety and distress we feel, the more threat-sensitive areas of our brains become activated, which in turn increases our sensation of pain.
Simply living with psoriasis is stressful enough, and many people with psoriasis report feeling more stressed during periods of flare-ups. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think psoriasis is causing you to feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. They may be able to offer some information on coping with stress or refer you to a mental health professional. It may also help to connect with others also living with psoriasis.
Depression and people living with psoriasis
Psoriasis and depression can occur on their own, but when a person has psoriasis, their risk of developing depression is higher.1 Psoriasis is a disease that comes with social and behavioral elements. That means the answer is not as simple as saying someone is depressed because of the appearance of their skin.
Psoriasis is a long-term disease with no cure. It is likely to make you feel like you are not in control of your life. Outside of the traditional skin symptoms, there are many linked factors between psoriasis and depression. These additional factors include discomfort, embarrassment, social avoidance, stress, and low vitamin D.
People with psoriasis may find themselves caught in a vicious cycle. The chronic stress of a health condition like theirs can lead to depression; in turn, stress and depression might trigger or exacerbate psoriasis flares, leading to more stress and worsening depression.
Don't hesitate to find comfort in a psoriasis community, a loved one, and especially a healthcare professional. These feelings are not uncommon when managing a chronic illness like psoriasis. It's important that in addition to prioritizing your physical health, that you're taking care of your mental health too.
Does your psoriasis management change with the seasons?