Psoriasis (sore-EYE-ah-sis) is a chronic (long-lasting) disease. It develops when a person’s immune system sends faulty signals that tell skin cells to grow too quickly. New skin cells form in days rather than weeks.
The body does not shed these excess skin cells. The skin cells pile up on the surface of the skin, causing patches of psoriasis to appear.
You cannot get psoriasis from touching someone who has it. To get psoriasis, a person must inherit the genes that cause it.
Types of psoriasis
If you have psoriasis, you will have one or more of these types:
- Plaque (also called psoriasis vulgaris)
- Inverse (also called flexural psoriasis or intertriginous psoriasis)
- Erythrodermic (also called exfoliative psoriasis)
Some people get more than one type. Sometimes a person gets one type of psoriasis, and then the type of psoriasis changes.
Who gets psoriasis?
People who get psoriasis usually have one or more person in their family who has psoriasis. Not everyone who has a family member with psoriasis will get psoriasis. But psoriasis is common. In the United States, about 7.5 million people have psoriasis. Most people, about 80%, have plaque psoriasis.
Psoriasis can begin at any age. Most people get psoriasis between 15 and 30 years of age. By age 40, most people who will get psoriasis, about 75%, have psoriasis. Another common time for psoriasis to begin is between 50 and 60 years of age.
Whites get psoriasis more often than other races. Infants and young children are more likely to get inverse psoriasis and guttate psoriasis.
What causes psoriasis?
Scientists are still trying to learn everything that happens inside the body to cause psoriasis. We know that psoriasis is not contagious. You cannot get psoriasis from touching someone who has psoriasis. You cannot get psoriasis from swimming in the same pool or having sex.
Scientists have learned that a person’s immune system and genes play important roles. It seems that many genes must interact to cause psoriasis.
Scientists also know that not everyone who inherits the genes for psoriasis will get psoriasis. It seems that a person must inherit the “right” mix of genes. Then the person must be exposed to a trigger.
Many people say that their psoriasis began after they experienced one of these common psoriasis triggers:
- A stressful event
- Strep throat
- Taking certain medicines, such as lithium or medicine to prevent malaria
- Cold, dry weather
- A cut, scratch or bad sunburn
How do dermatologists diagnose psoriasis?
To diagnose psoriasis, a dermatologist:
- Examines a patient’s skin, nails, and scalp for signs of psoriasis
- Asks whether family members have psoriasis
- Learns about what has been happening in the patient’s life. A dermatologist may want to know whether a patient has been under a lot of stress, had a recent illness, or just started taking a medicine.
- Sometimes a dermatologist also removes a bit of skin. A dermatologist may call this confirming the diagnosis. By looking at the removed skin under a microscope, one can confirm whether a person has psoriasis.
How do dermatologists treat psoriasis?
Treating psoriasis has benefits. Treatment can reduce signs and symptoms of psoriasis, which usually makes a person feel better. With treatment, some people see their skin completely clear. Treatment can even improve a person’s quality of life.
Thanks to ongoing research, there are many treatments for psoriasis. It is important to work with a dermatologist to find treatment that works for you and fits your lifestyle. Every treatment has benefits, drawbacks, and possible side effects.
Before you see a dermatologist for treatment, it helps to know about the treatment options. This knowledge will help you work with your dermatologist to create a treatment plan that is right for you.
You can learn about the many treatments for psoriasis by visiting the Academy’s website: PsoriasisNet
Psoriasis is a chronic (long-lasting) disease of the immune system. It cannot be cured. This means that most people have psoriasis for life. By teaming up with a dermatologist who treats psoriasis, you can find a treatment plan that works for you.
Dermatologists encourage their patients who have psoriasis to take an active role in managing this disease. By taking an active role, you can reduce the effects that psoriasis has on your quality of life.