Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease whose main symptom is patches of itchy, red, sore, flaky or scaly skin appearing on different areas of the body. Called plaques, these outbreaks occur most frequently on the scalp, back, knees, elbows, feet or hands.
It is estimated that between one and two per cent of the population suffers from this chronic disease. People with a family history of psoriasis have a greater risk of developing the condition themselves.
What causes psoriasis?
Psoriasis occurs when the body’s mechanism for sloughing off old skin cells and growing new ones malfunctions. New skin cells begin forming too quickly, before the old skin is ready to slough off. In an effort to nourish too much skin, the body increases blood flow to the area, causing a reddened, inflamed patch of skin with white, flaky dead skin cells on top.
Types of psoriasis
The vast majority of all psoriasis cases are plaque psoriasis, but there are a few other types:
Pustular psoriasis causes pus-filled blisters on the skin of the hands and feet, which eventually dry up and fall off.
Guttate psoriasis affects children, adolescents and young adults, and is often triggered by a bacterial infection, such as strep throat. Red, scaly lesions in the form of raindrops appear on the abdomen, legs or scalp. This type of psoriasis typically resolves on its own.
Inverse psoriasis creates dry, bright red patches in body folds, such as the armpits.
Erythrodermic psoriasis causes large outbreaks of red, scaly skin all over the body. It may develop from other types of psoriasis or may be triggered by withdrawal from corticosteroid drugs.
Living with psoriasis
For many people, psoriasis comes and goes or causes only mild discomfort. Other people constantly struggle with itchy, uncomfortable and noticeable plaques. Rarely, psoriasis can spread over a very large area of the body, overwhelming the immune system and putting the person at risk for serious infections.
Perhaps worse than the physical effects of psoriasis, the emotional effects can take a toll. People who struggle with severe psoriasis can become so self-conscious about their appearance that they become depressed and shy away from people and activities they once enjoyed.
It is important to know that psoriasis can be effectively treated by your dermatologist.