Psoriasis: Getting to know more about it

(a disease of the skin in which raised, rough, reddened areas appear, covered with fine silvery scales which cause aggravation)

Skin illustration of psoriasis on an arm.

The hard realities about psoriasis!

Skin illustration of healthy skin and psoriasis skin.
Illustration from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
Department of Health and Human Services

  • Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes scaling and swelling.
  • Skin cells grow deep in the skin and slowly rise to the surface.
  • Most psoriasis causes patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales.
  • hese patches can itch or feel sore.
  • They are often found on the elbows, knees, other parts of the legs, scalp, lower back, face, palms, and soles of the feet.
  • They can also show up in other places; such as, fingernails, toenails, genitals, and inside the mouth.
  • Anyone can get psoriasis, but it occurs more often in adults.
  • Sometimes there is a family history of psoriasis and certain genes have been linked to the disease.
  • Psoriasis begins in the immune system, mainly with a type of white blood cell called a "T" cell.
  • The "T" cells help protect the body against infection and disease.
  • With psoriasis, "T" cells are put into action by mistake and then they become so active that they set off other immune responses.
  • This leads to swelling and fast turnover of skin cells. People with psoriasis may notice that sometimes the skin gets better and sometimes it gets worse.
  • Things that can cause the skin to get worse include: infections, stress, changes in weather that dries the skin, and certain medications.
  • Psoriasis can be hard to diagnose because it can look like other skin diseases; so, the doctor might need to look at a small skin sample under a microscope to determine its existence.
  • Doctors are striving to learn more about psoriasis by studying: genes, new treatments that help the skin not to react to the immune system, and laser light treatment on thick patches.
  • Psoriasis is more than cosmetic because it is a disease which is common, chronic, and costly, both in monetary terms and in quality of life.
  • More than five million Americans have psoriasis, and they spend between $1.6 billion and $3.2 billion each year to treat the disease, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).
  • Between 150,000 and 260,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, including 20,000 in children younger than ten years.
  • Psoriasis can be painful and can be profoundly disruptive to a person's life. People who don't have it don't understand how burdensome the disease can be because there is a constant shedding of scales.
  • There can be functional impairment, itching, and pain with health complications; such as, arthritis which accompanies some cases.
  • There is no cure for psoriasis, but a broad range of treatments is available to reduce the symptoms, clear up the skin, and send the disease into remission by using treatments that range from creams rubbed into the skin, to lasers that aim ultraviolet rays at the skin, to the newest treatments: injectable drugs made from living cells.
  • Researchers continue to look for reasons why immune cells overreact and what genes may be responsible for psoriasis; hoping to find better treatments, and eventually a cure. Psoriasis research is aided by the visibility of the symptoms on the skin.
  • Multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes are just a few of the diseases that may also benefit from psoriasis research.
  • Psoriasis affects an estimated one percent to three percent of the world's population

Sea, Salt, and Sun

Some psoriasis sufferers have tried salt water to relieve their itchy or painful skin. Some have even made pilgrimages to the world's saltiest lake, the Dead Sea.

"The Dead Sea is excellent for psoriatic treatment," says Lawrence C. Parish, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology and cutaneous biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "But no one knows if the water itself has merit or whether the sun is the important part." As the lowest point on the planet, the Dead Sea region has unique weather and receives a distinctive spectrum of ultraviolet light from the sun.

Soaking in bath water containing Dead Sea salts or Epsom salts may have limited value. "It can help remove the scales of psoriasis and make people feel better," says Parish, "but no one has shown these salts to have a therapeutic effect."

Whether at the Dead Sea or anywhere else, sunlight can have a positive effect on psoriasis. "But be reasonable about it," Parish says. "A little bit of sun is fine." He advises wearing a wide-brimmed hat and applying sunscreen several times a day.

—Compiled essentially from information provided by
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
Department of Health and Human Services.

Pointing to a page about psoriasis Get the list of psoro-, psor- "itching" words.