News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
August is Psoriasis Awareness Month. Affecting 7 to 8 million people in the U.S. psoriasis is most prevalent among adults, although anyone can get it.
Psoriasis is a skin disease marked by red, itchy, scaly patches. It is a chronic autoimmune disease that speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells causing the body to make new cells in days rather than weeks. Visible signs include raised plaque and scales on the skin. Psoriasis is not contagious, even if you touch the skin of someone that has it.
There are several types of psoriasis with the most common being plaque psoriasis. It shows itself as patches of thick red skin and silvery scales typically found on the elbows, knees, and scalp. Plaque psoriasis makes up 80-90 percent of cases.
Psoriasis can show up on the eyelids, ears, mouth and lips, skin folds, hands, feet and nails. In severe cases, it can progress to cover large areas of the body and can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms. The fingernails and toenails can become thick and pitted. The skin may become so dry and cracked it causes bleeding.
Approximately 30 to 33% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis which includes extensive joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Guttate psoriasis is most often found in children and young adults and can be triggered by a bacterial infection. Skin sores appear on the scalp, torso, arms, and legs. For some, it is a one-time occurrence, while others may experience it throughout their life.
The exact cause of psoriasis isn’t known although researchers believe that T cells — a part of the immune system that focuses on foreign particles — attacks organisms that keep you healthy. For those with psoriasis, the T cells mistakenly attack healthy skin cells leading to an overproduction of new skin cells, T cells, and white blood cells.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, people with a parent that has psoriasis are 10% more likely to be diagnosed and 50% more likely if both parents were afflicted. Sometimes bacterial or viral infections may be a factor. Certain medications have also been linked to the development of psoriasis including lithium, beta-blockers, tetracycline, nonsteroidal and inflammatory drugs and malaria drugs.
While there is no cure for psoriasis, treatment can ease symptoms. Psoriasis can be diagnosed by a primary care physician although it can be confused with other skin diseases like eczema so a dermatologist is often the best way to get an absolute diagnosis.
For some, topical, oral, or body-wide treatments will help manage flare-ups. Steroid creams will slow down immune symptoms in the skin and can ease swelling and redness. Salicylic acid can soften and thin scaly skin. Sometimes phototherapy, which exposes the skin to ultraviolet light, is recommended. If treatments don’t work, your physician may give you a prescription to slow down the immune system. It is important to review and adjust treatment regularly to help manage day-to-day health.
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