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What Are Common Triggers For Psoriasis?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2016.

Plaque psoriasis is a chronic skin disease that can cause patches of a person’s skin to become inflamed and thicken.1,2 These patches can be covered with slivery scales, and can cause pain, itching, and discomfort. The symptoms of the disease vary from person to person, and each person’s own plaque psoriasis “triggers” can be different. These triggers are things that can contribute to causing certain people to develop plaque psoriasis for the first time. Triggers can also cause a person who is already living with plaque psoriasis to experience what is called a “flare-up.” Some triggers are more strongly linked to flare-ups, and others are more strongly linked to the initial development of the disease.

Most people with plaque psoriasis experience cycles of the disease. This means that a person’s psoriasis symptoms flare up and get worse for a certain period of time, which could be days, weeks, or months. This period in which psoriasis symptoms flare up is also called “active disease.” After a flare-up, it is common for a person’s symptoms to improve or even disappear for another period of time. Then the symptoms will usually flare up again and the cycle continues.

Understanding and avoiding your own individual psoriasis triggers is a very important part of managing the disease, reducing its symptoms, and improving your quality of life.

What are common triggers for plaque psoriasis?

Each person with plaque psoriasis has a different set of triggers.1,2 Some people may have more triggers than other people do. Some triggers affect certain people but not others, and some people react to certain triggers more severely than they do to other triggers. However, there are some triggers that are common among people with plaque psoriasis. These include:

  • Infections
  • Skin injuries
  • Taking certain medications
  • Lifestyle and environmental triggers: stress, smoking, drinking alcohol heavily, diet, allergies and weather

How can infections trigger plaque psoriasis?

Having an infection can trigger plaque psoriasis for many people.1,2 This is because having an infection affects the body’s immune system and psoriasis symptoms are related to how the immune system functions. Having an infection can also be linked to the first episode of psoriasis in people who are at a higher risk of developing the disease. Any type of infection in the body can be a trigger for plaque psoriasis or other types of psoriasis, in particular, guttate psoriasis.

How can skin injuries trigger plaque psoriasis?

Another common trigger for plaque psoriasis is any kind of skin injury.1,2 Cuts, scrapes, and scratches are common types of skin injury triggers. Others types of injuries to the skin that can trigger psoriasis include things like vaccinations, surgeries, bug bites, or sunburns.

When a skin injury triggers psoriasis, it is known as the “Koebner phenomenon.” In many cases, psoriasis that is triggered by a skin injury can be treated effectively if the person begins treatment quickly after the injury cause psoriasis symptoms.

How can medications trigger plaque psoriasis?

Taking certain types of medications can also trigger psoriasis flare-ups in many people.1,3 Medicines that are currently known to be possible triggers for psoriasis include:

  • High blood pressure medicines (beta blockers)
  • Antimalarial medicines
  • Lithium
  • Quinidine
  • Indomethacin

Beta blockers are medicines that are used to treat people with high blood pressure. One beta blocker called Inderal, has been shown to make symptoms worse for many people with psoriasis who take it. Other types of beta blockers may also be psoriasis triggers. A different type of heart medicine, called quinidine, has also been linked to psoriasis flare-ups in some patients.

Antimalarials are medicines that people take to keep from getting malaria. They are also sometimes used for people with psoriatic arthritis to reduce inflammation in the joints. These medicines can also cause a flare-up of psoriasis symptoms within a few weeks or even months after taking them.

Lithium is a medicine used to treat people with mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder. Research suggests that lithium can trigger flare-ups in about half of people with psoriasis who take lithium.

Indomethacin is a type of anti-inflammatory medicine that is commonly used to treat symptoms of arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. In certain people, it can also cause a flare-up of psoriasis symptoms.

It is important to let your healthcare provider know that you have psoriasis before you are prescribed with these or any other medicines. That way they can help you to avoid medicines that are known triggers if at all possible.

How can lifestyle and environmental factors trigger plaque psoriasis?

Possible lifestyle and environmental triggers for psoriasis include experiencing stress, smoking, drinking alcohol heavily, and weather changes.1,2,4

Research has shown that stress can affect a person’s immune system negatively, which can trigger a psoriasis flare up and make symptoms worse. Similarly, smoking and/or heavy alcohol drinking have been linked to worsened psoriasis symptoms.

Other factors are triggers for many people with psoriasis, even if they have not yet been scientifically proven to be so yet, such as diet and eating certain foods.  Many people also find that seasonal allergies and weather changes that dry out the skin (especially cold weather) can trigger their psoriasis symptoms.

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