Updated: Mar 7, 2022
In honour of psoriasis awareness week, we're giving you the low down on the key things you need to know about this condition.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic immune/skin condition, which causes symptoms on the skin. It tends to 'flare up' for a few weeks or month at a time before dying down or disappearing completely for a while.
Psoriasis appears as raised patches on the skin (known as 'plaques'), which can also be flaky, scaly, and itchy. These patches appear red on light skin, and sometimes purple on darker skin tones. The most common places for them to appear are on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back, although they can appear anywhere on your skin.
Skin cells regenerate quicker when a person has psoriasis. Normally, they take around 3-4 weeks, but with psoriasis, the skin replacement process can take just a few days.
What causes psoriasis?
It is believed that Psoriasis is caused when certain immune cells called T cells are 'triggered'. These triggers can differ from person to person, but some common triggers include damage to the skin from injury or burning, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, stress and hormone changes to name a few.
When triggered, the T cells respond by producing inflammatory chemicals to fight a perceived threat. This leads to the rapid growth of skin cells and, ultimately, the formation of plaques on the skin. Researchers are still trying to determine why some people’s immune systems respond this way to triggers.
Who is affected by psoriasis?
Psoriasis most commonly occurs from late teens to early thirties, and between around age 50 - 60, although it can develop at any age. No gender is more at risk than another, it occurs across all races.
The disease is not contagious, but it can be hereditary. If a close family member suffers from psoriasis then you may be more at risk, but it doesn't mean you will definitely get it.
How does psoriasis affect sufferers?
Psoriasis symptoms can differ from person to person. Your skin is the largest organ in the body, and the area of skin affected can vary greatly from person to person. Each sufferer copes with the condition in their own way.
Psoriasis can be linked to poor mental health in some cases. Sufferers can find it affects their self-esteem and shy away from activities that involve showing skin such as swimming. Even wearing short sleeved tops in the summer can become a stressful prospect for people who are worried about the aesthetics of their condition.
In extreme cases, it can affect an individual's ability to work as usual, either due to mental health problems linked to the condition or due to physical issues caused by the work task or environment.
Itching is an underappreciated symptom of psoriasis and can cause ongoing discomfort.
Treatment is determined after careful assessment of both physical and psychological symptoms, and these assessments are carried out regularly to make sure the right support is provided.
In some cases, people with psoriasis can also develop psoriatic arthritis. This is a form of arthritis linked to psoriasis and can cause damage to the affected joints. The two don't always go hand in hand however. Not everyone who develops psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis, and some people develop psoriatic arthritis without having psoriasis.
Types of psoriasis
Psoriasis occurs in many forms. It's possible to have two types of psoriasis at the same time, although most often only one type will occur at any one time. It's possible for one type to change into another or become a more severe form of the existing condition.
Psoriasis is usually cyclical, affecting the sufferer for a period of time - weeks or months - before stopping or easing.
The most common form of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis (psoriasis vulgaris) which accounts for around 80 to 90% of cases. This normally appears as dry red patches known as 'plaques', covered in silvery scales, usually on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back, although they can appear elsewhere too.
Scalp psoriasis is another common form, and in extreme cases can cause hair loss but this is usually temporary.
Approximately half of psoriasis sufferers also develop nail psoriasis, in which small dents and discolouration can appear in nails. Extreme forms may also cause nails to crumble.
Psoriasis is not curable, but there are many treatments available to lessen symptoms and improve the quality of life for sufferers. Creams and ointments are usually the first type of treatment prescribed. If these don't work, phototherapy, or 'light therapy' may be used which involved controlled exposure to UV light on a regular basis.
Medications may also be prescribed for more severe cases, and often, treatments will be combined depending on the nature and severity of the individual's symptoms.
The current thinking is that psoriasis affects between 2% and 3% of the UK population- up to 1.8 million people - although this is an estimate.
The condition isn't contagious, so it can't be spread from person to person
There are also support groups for people with psoriasis, such as The Psoriasis Association, where you can speak to other people with the condition.