What is Psoriasis? What are the Causes and Symptoms of Psoriasis?
It is important to know that psoriasis is not contagious in any way.
But why do people develop this skin condition? While scientists are unsure about exactly what causes psoriasis, they do confirm that it is linked to a problem with the immune system - the body's defence against germs.
If you have psoriasis, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells, as if it were fighting an infection. Your body responds by making new skin cells every few days instead of the usual four weeks. Those new skin cells build up on your body's surface and form a rash.
Psoriasis is a surprisingly common, but non-contagious, skin condition that leads to rapid skin cell reproduction resulting in red, dry patches of thickened skin which are thought to be as a result of the rapid build up of skin cells. While the skin of the elbows, knees and scalp are often most affected by psoriasis, the condition can occur anywhere on the body.
What are the psoriasis causes?
There may be a combination of contributing factors:
- Genetics plays a part because it is common for psoriasis to be found in members of the same family.
- The Immune system is also thought to play a major role.
- Certain medications can cause an outbreak or flareup of psoriasis and these include: anti-malarial drugs; beta-blockers; corticosteroids, Indomethacin; and Lithium. Never start such medications without informing your doctor if you have a family history of psoriasis.
- The condition can flare up with new lesions a few days after injury to the skin either by being cut, scratched, rubbed or severely sunburned.
- Stress is an important trigger for flare ups while some can trace their original outbreak of the condition to a particular stressful incident. And of course, becoming stressed about having the condition of psoriasis itself only compounds the problem.
- Climate plays a significant role in psoriasis when cold and dry winter weather and the lack of moisture from overheated buildings poses a real challenge. Time spent in a hot and sunny climate (but without the drying effect of air conditioning) can improve the situation.
- Other triggers include obesity, bacterial and viral infections (including HIV), hormone imbalance, the habit of smoking and indulging in heavy drinking.
- A third of all sufferers will have a family history of psoriasis. If one parent has the condition, the odds for a child to develop the condition is one in four. If both parents have psoriasis, these chances increase to two out of their three children.
What are other reasons why psoriasis occurs?
- Psoriasis can be triggered by throat infections especially a streptococci infection.
- Trauma or scratching can make the condition worse.
- Certain drugs can bring on psoriasis for the first time or, if the condition is already present, aggravate it. These include blood pressure meds (beta-blockers); NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that are pain killers used to ease joint pain and swelling from psoriatic arthritis while also capable of triggering psoriasis flare-ups; and some mental health medications including Fluoxetine and Lithium.
- As in many other conditions, stress can play a big part with psoriasis being adversely affected in a stressful situation.
- While sunlight is often helpful for psoriasis sufferers, in up to twelve per cent of those with psoriasis they could find it becomes worse with too much sunshine - particularly if they are fair skinned.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol is not a good idea for those with psoriasis - it should be kept to a minimum.
- Smoking is of course extremely unhealthy for anyone but when psoriasis occurs on the hands and the feet, it can be adversely affected by smoking.
- A 2013 study published in the Dermato-Endocrinology Journal has linked autoimmunity, and therefore psoriasis, with a vitamin D deficiency.
What are the psoriasis symptoms?
You can check out our gallery of psoriasis photos here.
The signs and symptoms of psoriasis can vary depending on the type of psoriasis you have. The 5 most common symptoms of psoriasis include:
- Rashes or patches of red, inflamed skin, often covered with loose, silver-colored scales; in severe cases, the plaques will grow and merge into one another, covering large areas.
- Itchy, painful skin that can crack or bleed.
- Small areas of bleeding where the involved skin is scratched.
- Problems with your fingernails and toenails, including discoloration and pitting; the nails may also begin to crumble or detach from the nail bed.
- Scaly plaques on the scalp.
Are there different types of psoriasis?
Yes, there are 7 different types of psoriasis…
Plaque Psoriasis is the most common type with about 8 in 10 people with psoriasis having this kind. Plaque psoriasis causes raised, inflamed, red skin covered with silvery, white scales. These patches may itch and burn, appearing especially on the elbows, knees, scalp and/or lower back.
Guttate Psoriasis is a type that often starts in children or young adults but occurring in less than 2% of cases, causing small, pink-red spots on the skin and often appearing on the trunk, the upper arms, thighs and scalp. This type of psoriasis may go away within a few weeks, even without treatment. Some cases, though, are more stubborn and require treatment.
Inverse Psoriasis is usually found in the armpits, the groin, under the breasts and/or in the skin folds around the genitals and buttocks. Symptoms include patches of skin that are bright red, smooth, and shiny without any scales. These symptoms can become worse as a result of sweating or friction while fungal infections can be a trigger.
Pustular Psoriasis is uncommon and mostly appears in adults. It causes pus-filled bumps (pustules) surrounded by red skin. These may look infectious - but are not. Although sometimes just appearing in the hands and feet, when it covers most of the body but when this happens, it can be very serious requiring immediate medical attention. Symptoms include: fever, chills, nausea, a fast heart rate and muscle weakness. There is a list of triggers for this type of psoriasis including:
- Topical medicine (ointments you put on your skin) or systemic medicine (drugs that treat your whole body), especially steroids.
- Suddenly stopping systemic drugs or strong topical steroids that you used over a large area of your body.
- Getting too much ultraviolet (UV) light without using sunscreen.
- Exposure to certain chemicals.
- Suddenly stopping your systemic psoriasis treatment.
- An allergic drug reaction.
- Severe sunburn.
- Medications such as lithium, antimalarial drugs, cortisone, or strong coal tar products.
Erythrodermic psoriasis may also happen if your psoriasis is hard to control.Nail Psoriasis is common in up to half of those with psoriasis, being even more common in those who have psoriatic arthritis, which affects your joints. The symptoms include:
- Pitting of your nails.
- Tender, painful nails.
- Separation of the nail from the bed.
- Color changes (yellow-brown).
- Chalk-like material under your nails
You're also more likely to also have a fungal infection.Psoriatic Arthritis is a condition where you have both psoriasis and arthritis (joint inflammation). In 70% of cases, people have psoriasis for about 10 years before getting psoriatic arthritis. About 90% of people with it also have nail changes. The symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include:
- Painful, stiff joints that are worse in the morning and after rest.
- Sausage-like swelling of the fingers and toes.
- Warm joints that may be discolored.
Some four and a half million people in the United States have been diagnosed with this condition, spread equally between both men and women. Once diagnosed, there are various treatments a sufferer can turn to depending on the type of psoriasis, the severity and how much of the body is affected.
How do you treat psoriasis?
- For mild versions of psoriasis involving small areas of the body, the doctor will often proscribe topical creams, lotions or sprays.
- Tough or resistant areas of psoriasis may be prescribed a small local injection of steroids.
- For moderate to severe types of psoriasis, involving large areas of the body, systemic or total body treatments such as oral medications, light treatments or injections may be prescribed. Unfortunately, those stronger medications usually have greater associated possible risks and side effects. Many of those with psoriasis (up to 30%) will then go on to suffer from psoriatic arthritis too.
Fortunately, there are natural and safe products available to use for both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis which can dramatically reduce the symptoms of the conditions and even control their outbreaks, making it unnecessary to resort to pharmaceutical medications and treatments.
If you, or someone close to you, suffer from psoriasis, it is worth while doing your own research so that you are well informed.
Natural Medicines. Oregon grape. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. (Accessed Feb 13, 2021).
Kermott CA, et al., eds. Psoriasis. In: Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies. 2nd ed. Time; 2017.
Bolognia JL, et al., eds. Ultraviolet therapy. In: Dermatology. 4th ed. Saunders Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. (Accessed Feb 13, 2021).
Bolognia JL, et al., eds. Systemic immunomodulators. In: Dermatology. 4th ed. Saunders Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. (Accessed Feb 13, 2021).