Psoriasis is a chronic recurring skin disease. The scope of the disease can vary considerably, from mild outbreaks where the person may not even be aware they have psoriasis, to severe cases which can be socially disabling and, in rare instances, life-threatening.
In principle, people of all ages can get psoriasis, but the early onset form of the disease is mostly seen in 16 to 22 year-olds and the late onset form strikes those between the ages of 50 and 60.
Psoriasis is derived from the Greek word 'psora', which means itch. Around two per cent of the population have psoriasis to a greater or lesser degree.
It generally appears as patches of raised red skin covered by a flaky white buildup. In certain kinds of psoriasis, it also has a pimple-ish (pustular psoriasis) or burned (erythrodermic) appearance.
Psoriasis can also cause intense itching and burning.
It is thought that the underlying problem is that new skin cells are produced too quickly and rise to the surface before the old skin cells have had time to die off and be scrubbed away.
The result of this overproduction of skin cells is red and raised patches on the skin.
Psoriasis is not contagious.
Researchers believe the immune system sends faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle in skin cells. Certain genes have been identified as being linked to psoriasis.
It appears, however, that a genetic tendency needs to be triggered off by such things as injury, throat infection, certain drugs and physical and emotional stress.
Research is beginning to unravel the genetic aspects and in time it should be possible to identify those who have a tendency to psoriasis before they actually develop signs.
If one parent has psoriasis the chances of a child developing it is around 15%. However if both parents have psoriasis the chances increase to around 75%.
There are five different types of psoriasis. They are as follows:
It is based upon:
A doctor-particularly a dermatologist-can provide guidance in selecting the right treatment. The traditional approach is to start with the least potent treatments (topicals, phototherapy) and move to stronger ones (such as methotrexate or biologics) until a satisfactory combination of results and risks is found.
The goal is to find a treatment that has the best results and the fewest side effects.
Prescription creams, ointments, lotions and gels (also called topical medicines) that you put on the affected areas are often used to treat psoriasis.
Your doctor may tell you to put your medicine on the areas of psoriasis before you go to bed and then cover the areas with plastic wrap (such as Saran Wrap).
If you don't respond to any of these treatments, your doctor may prescribe a new medicine that is given as an injection. This new medication is used for moderate to severe cases of psoriasis.
Special shampoos are used for psoriasis on the scalp. In more severe cases, medicines are taken in pill form. Other treatments include a special type of ultraviolet light therapy.
Sunlight can help psoriasis, but be careful not to stay in the sun too long. A sunburn can make your psoriasis worse. You should use a sunscreen on the parts of your skin that aren't affected by psoriasis. It's especially important to put sunscreen on your face.
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