Approximately 2.2 percent of the world’s total population suffers from psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes rapid skin cell growth. Psoriasis occurs when your body’s immune system mistakenly begins to reacts to your own skin. As the immune system begins to “attack” the skin, high levels of inflammation build in the skin, causing injury. The injured skin attempts to heal, but cannot, since the attack never stops. The constant, futile attempts to heal lead the skin to grow abnormally, which results in the appearance of thick red patches of skin, covered with layer after layer of dead skin scales. These are known as Plaques. They can become cracked, ulcerated, and infected, with pain and itching. While the most common areas affected are the scalp, elbows, and knees, this disease can affect almost any area on the body.
Often trivialized as “just a skin rash,” psoriasis is actually a serious, debilitating disease. The impact of psoriasis actually extends throughout the body. About 30% of psoriasis patients also suffer with psoriatic arthritis, a progressive painful arthritis which can be crippling. Recent data now show that patients with psoriasis have upwards of twice the risk of heart attack and stroke, compared to unaffected individuals.
Besides itching and swelling, psoriasis is often associated with symptoms of psychological distress. Individuals with psoriasis may experience low self-esteem and depression due to the way this disease affects appearance. In fact, people with psoriasis are twice as likely to become depressed as the rest of the population. For this very reason, organizations like the National Psoriasis Foundation, fund psoriasis research and help people learn how to overcome the daily life challenges that come with the condition.
Psoriasis comes in several forms, including:
● Plaque Psoriasis is the most common form of the condition. This type causes raised, inflamed lesions (called plaques) covered with scales to form on the skin.
● Inverse Psoriasis affects areas around the armpits, groin, genitals, and breasts, causing smooth patches of red, inflamed skin to appear.
● Guttate Psoriasis mainly affects younger adults and children. This type causes small, tear-shaped sores to cover your torso, arms, legs, and scalp.
● Pustular Psoriasis causes raised blisters filled with pus to appear on your skin, usually on the hands and feet.
Symptoms of psoriasis can sometimes disappear without treatment and then flare up again spontaneously. Flare ups can also be triggered by external factors including infection, stress, and cold and dry weather. While there is no current cure for the condition, there are a variety of treatments available.
Mild cases can be managed with topical medications. Topical psoriasis medications are put directly on the affected areas. They typically contain medications such as corticosteroids, or Vitamin A and Vitamin D derivatives. More widespread cases can be treated with Ultraviolet Light. These high energy, invisible forms of light are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer, but when used carefully under medical supervision, can be powerful and safe treatments for psoriasis.
The most severe cases are candidates for Systemic drugs, which are taken orally or through injection. Oral medications were the gold standard for many years. Drugs such as Methotrexate can be highly effective for some patients, but can have serious side effects such as liver damage if not properly managed. Roughly a decade ago, a revolution in treatment became available. So-called Biologic drugs are injectable medications. They are antibodies, which are proteins normally made by your immune system to fight infection. Biologic drugs use genetically engineered antibodies to which are able to target with great precision the exact points in the process of creating inflammation that lead to psoriasis. By blocking those triggers, the inflammation can be shut down and the skin allowed to heal. These drugs have proven to be dramatically more effective than older drugs, and yet remarkably, have a better safety profile at the same time. While they are not right for every patient, they now give dermatologists the ability to completely clear even the most severe cases of psoriasis. Many additional advances are just around the corner as well, and there has never been a better opportunity for patients with bad psoriasis to see dramatic healing.
If you’re struggling with psoriasis please schedule an appointment with the experts at Avail Dermatology by giving us a call 770-251-5111.