5 Things You Should Know About Psoriasis

Health Conditions

5 Things You Should Know About Psoriasis

Arthritis.Psoriatic Arthritis
Barbara Brody
By Barbara Brody
Aug 03, 2019 - Updated Jul 29, 2020
Gabriel Espinoza, MD
Medically Reviewed ByGabriel Espinoza, MD
Woman itching her psoriasis on her back.

More than 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis, a chronic condition that’s well-known for causing scaly skin.

Whether you suspect you might be one of them, have been recently diagnosed, or are just curious to learn more as August is Psoriasis Awareness Month, here are five facts you should know about this often misunderstood disorder.

It’s easy to confuse with eczema, but they’re not the same thing.

Got red, scaly skin? You might have psoriasis—or it could be eczema.

These conditions are sometimes hard to tell apart; even doctors can get it wrong.

A few clues: Psoriasis tends to cause thicker patches (which might appear red and/or silver), show up on elbows and knees, and be mildly itchy.

Eczema is more apt to be found behind the knees and in the crook of the elbow and be extremely itchy.

Sorting it out is important because these conditions have different causes and treatments. While eczema is associated with allergies, psoriasis is an immune system disorder.

If you have psoriasis, your skin cells develop at an abnormally fast pace. New skin cells mature in just a few days (instead of about a month), and since you can’t shed old ones that rapidly they start to build up and form plaques.

It’s more than just a skin condition.

Although you should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to get diagnosed (a skin biopsy may be needed) and receive proper treatment, psoriasis doesn’t only impact your appearance. That’s because it stems from an immune system glitch, and the same malfunction that leads to your body mistakenly attacking your skin cells can also wreak havoc on other body parts. People with psoriasis have a higher than average risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease.

They’re also more prone to other autoimmune diseases, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and psoriatic arthritis. About 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints (especially the fingers and toes).

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It’s not contagious.

Psoriasis sometimes runs in families due to genetic factors, but it’s not something you can catch by being around someone who has it or by touching their skin.

Stress may lead to a flare.

People with psoriasis tend to experience periods of remission—when they have little or no visible evidence of the disease—as well as flare-ups.

If you have psoriasis, your doctor may advise you to track your symptoms to see how they correspond to common triggers. Stress is a big one for many patients; cold weather, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, skimping on vitamin D, and catching an infection (like strep throat) may also cause symptoms to worsen.

There are lots of treatments but no cure.

The goal of any psoriasis management plan is to keep you in remission as long as possible.

If your symptoms are mild, topical creams and ointments, such as corticosteroids, may help combat the inflammation. Your provider might also prescribe a topical treatment that slows down the life cycle of the skin cells, such as calcitriol (Vectical), or may recommend UV light therapy: That might entail spending short periods of sun exposure or using a special phototherapy device.

If your psoriasis is moderate to severe, you might need an oral or injectable medication. There are many different FDA-approved options, so talk to your provider about the best option for you.

Some possibilities include systemic drugs like methotrexate, which reduces inflammation throughout the entire body, and acitretin (Soriatane), which is an oral retinoid (a synthetic form of vitamin A). Some patients with severe psoriasis end up needing biologic drugs, which are taken by injection or infusion. Biologics block specific proteins such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) or interleukin-12, -17, or -23 that would otherwise cause more inflammation. TNF-inhibitors include etanercept (Enbrel), adalimumab (Humira), and infliximab (Remicade). Interleukin-inhibitors include ustekinumab (Stelara) and secukinumab (Cosentyx).

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Biologics are powerful drugs and tend to work well for psoriasis, but there are also downsides. The biggest concern is that taking one of these medications makes you more susceptible to serious infections. You’re more apt to need a biologic if you have psoriatic arthritis as well as psoriasis; some of these drugs have been FDA-approved for both conditions.

These are just a few of the many possible treatments for psoriasis. If you think that you might have this condition, or if you’re already being treated for it but your symptoms aren’t improving, talk to your health care provider.

Barbara Brody

Barbara Brody

Barbara Brody is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness. A regular contributor to the RxSaver blog, she has also written for WebMD, Prevention, Shape, Health and many other print and digital outlets.

Gabriel Espinoza, MD

Gabriel Espinoza, MD

Gabriel Espinoza, MD, has experience in caring for critically ill patients in acute care hospitals and in patients in primary care and emergency settings. Some of the topics he has focused on in his medical career include various areas in public health, health, and fitness. Prior to becoming a physician, Dr. Espinoza contributed to the development and labeling of dietary supplements and cosmetics for an international dietary supplement company.

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