What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a life-long skin disorder that causes red, scaly patches called lesions to appear on your skin. The lesions can show up on any area of the skin. There are several different kinds of psoriasis.

Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis and it is characterized by red-looking skin lesions topped with silvery white scales.
Guttate psoriasis is also fairly common and it is characterized by red, small, dot-like lesions covered with silvery white scale;
Pustular psoriasis has blister-like lesions of fluid, which is not infectious, and intense scaling. It can appear anywhere on the body, but often it appears on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

Inverse psoriasis is very red lesions with little or no scales and appears in the skin folds, such as the arm pits, creases in the groin and under the breasts.

Erythrodermic psoriasis is rare and looks very red and swollen, lots of shedding of dead skin, and painful.
About 30 to 50 percent of people with psoriasis also get psoriatic (sore-ee-attic) arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness and swelling in and around the joints. This type of arthritis most often affects the hands, feet, wrists, ankles and lower back.

Who gets psoriasis?

Psoriasis affects nearly three percent of the world's population. It can develop in males or females of any race or age. It often appears between the ages of 15 and 35, although it can strike at any age including infants and the elderly.

What causes psoriasis?

No one knows exactly what causes psoriasis. Doctor's believe it is related to the body's immune system and that it is genetic, meaning that it can run in families. In people with psoriasis, the immune system is mistakenly "triggered" causing skin cells to grow too fast. The rapidly growing cells pile up in the skin's top layers, leading to the formation of lesions on the surface.

Right now, there are many psoriasis associations around the world supporting research to find out why people get psoriasis and how it can be treated or even cured.

How bad can psoriasis get?

Psoriasis can be limited to a few areas of the skin (mild), or it can be moderate or widespread and severe. A normal skin cell matures in 28 to 30 days and sheds from the skin unnoticed. Psoriatic skin cells mature in only three to four days. They "heap up" and form scaly lesions. Psoriasis lesions can be painful and itchy and they can crack and bleed.

How do I know I have psoriasis?

A physician usually makes the diagnosis after looking at the skin. Occasionally a physician examines a skin biopsy under a microscope. Pitting of the nails is sometimes a sign of psoriasis. There is no specific medical test for psoriasis.

Is psoriasis contagious?

No, people cannot catch psoriasis from someone else.

What are some of the myths surrounding psoriasis?

Unlike other ailments, psoriasis can be seen on the skin and often people guess at what is wrong. They wonder if the lesions might be contagious, which they are not, or that the person who has psoriasis is unclean, overly nervous or high-strung, which they may be, but that is not the reason they have psoriasis. Sometimes they may believe the person who has the skin disorder did something to cause psoriasis to appear but that, too, is also false.

Psoriasis is a disorder stemming from a physical defect just like other disorders, such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes or nearsightedness. It is very important to educate the public about psoriasis and not allow myths to spread.

What are the chances of getting psoriasis?

It is not possible to predict who will get psoriasis. Heredity (the genetic transfer of features from parent to child) plays a role, but some people who have psoriasis have no obvious family history of psoriasis.

Is there a cure for psoriasis?

Not yet. Psoriasis is a disorder that most often needs lifelong treatment. And because there are so many different medications for the disorder, it may take some time before the right treatment or combination of treatments will work for an individual. Sometimes psoriasis becomes worse (called a flare) than at other times. In some cases, psoriasis can go away on its own for a period of time, which is known as a "spontaneous remission."