What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a noncontagious skin condition that produces plaques of thickened, scaling skin. The dry flakes of skin scales are thought to result from the excessively rapid proliferation of skin cells that is triggered by an immune attack by abnormal lymphocytes. Psoriasis commonly affects the skin of the elbows, knees, and scalp.
Some people have such mild psoriasis (small, faint dry skin patches) that they may not even suspect that they have a medical skin condition. Others have very severe psoriasis where virtually their entire body is fully covered with thick, red, scaly skin.
Psoriasis is considered an incurable, long-term (chronic) skin condition. It has a variable course, periodically improving and worsening. It is not unusual for psoriasis to spontaneously clear for years and stay in remission. Many people note a worsening of their symptoms in the colder winter months.
Psoriasis affects all races and both sexes. Although psoriasis can be seen in people of any age, from babies to seniors, most commonly patients are first diagnosed in their early adult years. The quality of life of patients with psoriasis is often diminished because of the appearance of their skin. Recently, it has become clear that people with psoriasis are more likely to have diabetes, high blood lipids, and heart disease. There are speculations as to how this might relate to their joint and skin inflammation. Caring for psoriasis takes medical teamwork.
- Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease.
- Patients with psoriasis who areobese are predisposed to diabetesand heart disease.
- Psoriasis can be initiated by certain environmental triggers.
- A predisposition for psoriasis is inherited in genes.
- Psoriasis is not contagious.
- Psoriasis gets better and worse spontaneously and can have periodic remissions (clear skin).
- Psoriasis is controllable with medication.
- Psoriasis is currently not curable.
- There are many promising therapies, including newer biologic drugs.
- Future research for psoriasis is promising.
What are psoriasis symptoms and signs?
Psoriasis appears as red or pink areas of thickened, raised, and scaling skin. It classically affects areas over the elbows, knees, and scalp. Although any body area may be involved, it tends to be more common in areas of trauma, scratching, or abrasions.
Psoriasis may vary in appearance. It often appears as small flattened scaly bumps and larger thick plaques of raised skin.
There are several different types of psoriasis, including psoriasis vulgaris (common type), guttate psoriasis (small, drop-like spots), inverse psoriasis (in the folds like of the underarms, navel, groin, and buttocks), and pustular psoriasis (small pus-filled yellowish blisters). When the palms and the soles are involved, this is known as palmoplantar psoriasis.
Sometimes pulling off one of these small dry white flakes of skin causes a tiny blood spot on the skin. This is medically referred to as a special diagnostic sign in psoriasis called the Auspitz sign.
Genital lesions, especially on the head of the penis, are common. Psoriasis in moist areas like the navel or the area between the buttocks (intergluteal folds) may look like flat red patches. This may be confused with other skin conditions like fungal infections, yeast infections, skin irritation, or bacterial infections.
Finger and toenails often exhibit small pits (pinpoint depressions) and/or larger yellowish-brown separations of the nail bed called "oil spots." Nail psoriasis may be confused with and incorrectly diagnosed as a fungal nail infection.
Scalp psoriasis may look like severe dandruff with dry flakes and red areas of skin. It may be difficult to differentiate between scalp psoriasis and seborrhea dermatitis when only the scalp is involved. However, the treatment is often very similar for both conditions.