Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes symptoms to develop on the skin. There are several different types of psoriasis, but the most common form is called plaque psoriasis, which affects between 80% and 90% of people with the condition. Plaques are patches of skin that are raised, red, dry, and often covered with a layer of silvery scales.
Psoriasis is a chronic, life-long condition. It cannot be cured, but most people will cycle through periods of flare-ups and remissions. Flare-ups are periods of time when symptoms get worse. Remissions are periods of time when the symptoms get better or even go away completely for a time. People who have psoriasis can learn to identify and avoid their own psoriasis triggers, which are things in the environment that can cause psoriasis symptoms to flare up.
What are plaques and why do they form?
Plaques are patches of skin that are raised, red, inflamed, and often covered with a layer of silvery scales. Plaques develop because people with psoriasis have an immune system that is overactive, causing inflammation when it is not needed. This inflammation triggers the production of new skin cells more quickly than older skin cells can die off and be shed from the skin naturally. The new skin cells push the older cells up to the surface of the skin, where they build up in the form of plaques.
What are the symptoms of plaque psoriasis?
Plaques can develop anywhere on a person’s body, but may often form on the scalp, elbows, knees, lower back, hands, feet, nails, genitals, and skin folds. A person with psoriasis may have plaques just in one area of the body, or they may develop in multiple locations.
Most people with psoriasis (around 80%) have a mild form of the condition, with symptoms that affect less than 3% of a person’s total body surface area. Moderate psoriasis affects between 3% and 10% of the body surface, while severe psoriasis affects 10% or more of the body surface.
Plaques are the most common symptom of psoriasis, and they can cause itchiness and burning. They can occasionally crack and bleed, particularly if they are very dry or located on an area of the body that bends or moves frequently (like a knee or elbow).
How is psoriasis treated?
Even though psoriasis cannot be cured, there are different types of treatments available that work effectively to reduce and relieve symptoms for many people. People with psoriasis that is will usually try treatment first with over-the-counter or prescription topical medications, which are applied directly to the affected skin. People with moderate to severe symptoms may need to combine topical treatments with systemic medications. These are taken by mouth or through an injection and work by affecting the way the person’s immune system functions in order to reduce inflammation and prevent as many new skin cells from being produced. Light therapy (Phototherapy) is another treatment option for people with psoriasis. Light therapy involves exposing the affected skin to ultraviolet light rays for a limited period of time to help reduce symptoms.
Many people also find that certain types of lifestyle changes can help them to control their psoriasis symptoms, such as dietary changes, regular exercise, stress management techniques, and home remedies. Others find that complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements may be helpful.
Is psoriasis related to other health conditions?
Inflammation in the body is the cause of psoriasis symptoms on the skin. Inflammation is also linked to other types of health conditions, which tend to affect people with psoriasis at higher rates than people without psoriasis. These include:
- Heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Certain types of cancers
Healthcare providers regularly monitor people with psoriasis for sign and symptoms of these other conditions, most of which can be controlled and treated effectively if they are caught early enough.