To the average individual, a rash is just a rash. But to the trained eye, you may be dealing with an inflammatory skin condition called psoriasis. This common problem affects up to three percent of Americans. All races and both genders can be affected, with more adults carrying this diagnosis than children. So how do you know if you might be one of those people? The following signs may be helpful to know:
- Psoriasis tends to affect both sides of the body equally.
- It may or may not itch.
- The rash starts out looking like a pink or red spot that becomes covered with a white or silvery scale over a few weeks. This scale can sometimes be loose and leave a mess on the patient’s clothes and sheets.
- There is a tendency for the rash to be worse in areas that are traumatized or scratched.
- The elbows, knees, scalp and torso are commonly affected.
We don’t always know why psoriasis rears its ugly head. We do know there is a hereditary component which can be rather strong. Some people who have this family predominance may come down with a simple infection such as strep throat and only a few weeks later, their psoriasis symptoms can start appearing.
Nearly 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness and swelling at the joints, particularly in the fingers, toes, knees and ankles. Although psoriatic arthritis can occur at any time, it most commonly develops between the ages of 30 and 50. There are several factors that may influence the onset of the disease including genes, one’s immune system and environmental conditions. It is important to understand that if an individual has severe psoriasis, it does not necessarily mean that he or she will develop a severe case of psoriatic arthritis. In addition, an individual may have few skin lesion, but could have multiple joints affected by the arthritis. Psoriasis has also been linked to many other systemic, inflammatory diseases. Recent research has shown that people with psoriasis may be more likely to have heart attacks, strokes and other serious health problems.
Although there is no cure for psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, treatments are available to alleviate the symptoms, including:
Topical Treatments: Topical treatments are medications applied to the skin and are usually the first treatment option against psoriasis. These medications reduce the inflammation associated with the disease and improve the symptoms and red, scaly appearance of psoriasis. Many topical treatments are available over-the-counter (OTC); however some of the strongest and most effective are available by prescription only.
Phototherapy or Light Therapy: During phototherapy, the affected skin is repeatedly exposed to controlled doses of ultraviolet light under medical supervision. Treatment is given at the dermatologist’s office, a psoriasis clinic, or at home with a phototherapy unit. This treatment must be administered regularly to be effective.
Systemic Medications: Systemic medications are used for patients with moderate to severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis who are unresponsive to other treatments. These prescription drugs are taken orally or are injected.
People with psoriasis should also be screened for diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and other factors linked to heart disease and stroke. If you suspect that you or someone you know may be affected, see a dermatologist soon to get properly diagnosed! If left untreated, psoriasis can cause more serious health problems.
If you have noticed new “dry patches” to any body areas, you should get them checked out; they may represent Psoriasis and not just dry skin. If you think you have Psoriasis or are struggling with it, talk to your primary care physician or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.