Introduction to Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a non-contagious skin disorder characterised by the development of flaky crusts and scaling skin.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a non-contagious skin disorder characterised by the development of flaky crusts and scaling skin. Psoriasis affects around 2% of the UK population, starting most frequently in young adults, though it can begin at any age. This disorder is long-lasting (chronic) and has an ‘intermittent’ course, meaning that it periodically flares up then improves. The severity of the condition is highly variable and it can have a major impact on quality of life because of its appearance and associated symptoms. Though there is no cure, there are treatments available to reduce suffering and partially improve its appearance. If you think you may suffer from psoriasis, please see your dermatologist or GP.
What are the causes for Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is caused by an overproduction of skin cells, resulting in the characteristic thickening and scaling of your skin. The root of the problem is not fully understood, but it is thought to be caused by the body’s own immune system attacking its skin cells. Research indicates that a type of immune cell, known as a T cell, accidently attacks skin cells, stimulating a reactive increase in the production of skin cells. This in turn causes an increase in the production of T cells, initiating a ‘vicious cycle’ of autoimmunity.
Psoriasis can run in families. However, no single gene can predict the development of psoriasis with total certainty, indicating that there may be a fundamental genetic predisposition, though not a cause. Usually, an environmental trigger can be identified that worsens psoriasis. For example, skin injury, alcohol, stress and smoking are common triggers.
What are the symptoms of Psoriasis?
The skin becomes dry and flaky, red due to inflammation and develops silvery scales. This is often itchy, may be painful and can crack and bleed. These lesions usually affect the knees, elbows, lower back and scalp, but can occur anywhere on the body.
How is Psoriasis treated?
There are three main categories of drugs used: topical creams and ointments, phototherapy and ‘systemic’ medications. Topical treatments are usually the first line for mild to moderate psoriasis. They include moisturising ‘emollients,’ steroid creams, vitamin D analogues and calcineurin inhibitors. Phototherapy involves the use of natural and artificial light to reduce symptoms of psoriasis. Systemic medications are usually reserved for severe psoriasis as they have several important side effects. Systemic medications include immunosuppressants and are either taken orally or injected. Ultimately, the best treatment depends on the severity and type of psoriasis you suffer from.