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Psoriasis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments
|This content is for information purposes only and is not provided with the intention of diagnosing a condition or illness. You should speak to a medical professional for diagnosis.|
Psoriasis (pronounced “sore-eye-a-sis”) is an inflammatory condition of the skin, nails and joints1, caused when your skin cells grow too quickly2. Symptoms include red scaly patches on the skin, and itchiness and flaking of the skin.
The areas most commonly affected are the scalp, elbows and knees, but psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body, including finger and toenails2,3.
What causes psoriasis?
The cause of psoriasis is unknown, however it’s thought that it occurs in people who have a genetic tendency for the immune system in their skin to react to certain triggers4.
If psoriasis runs in your family, infections and certain medications (lithium, beta blockers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antimalarial medication) can trigger the onset of psoriasis or cause it to flare up3.
What are the symptoms of psoriasis?
Psoriasis causes different symptoms in different people, however the most common symptoms are dry, raised, red patches of skin (called plaques) covered with silvery scales4. These patches usually appear on the scalp, elbow and knees, but can appear anywhere on the body.
Psoriasis can also cause dents and discolouration of the finger and toenails4. Some people can experience swollen, painful joints, and rare types of psoriasis cause pus-filled blisters or a red, peeling rash that itches or burns intensely4.
Crohn’s disease – a gastrointestinal disorder that causes painful swelling and redness inside the digestive tract as a result of an overactive immune response – occurs more commonly in patients with psoriasis4.
What are the different types of psoriasis?
There are five different types of psoriasis that affect people of different ages and cause varying symptoms5:
- Plaque psoriasis: the most common form of psoriasis – around 80% of people living with psoriasis have this type2. It presents as raised red lesions covered by silvery white skin cells.
- Pustular psoriasis: a more severe form which is mostly found in adults and can be painful. This type of psoriasis appears as white blisters of non-infectious pus surrounded by red skin2. It mostly appears on the hands and feet.
- Guttate psoriasis: found mostly in children and presents as small pink dots on the torso, arms and legs5. It’s commonly seen in young adults two or three weeks after they’ve had tonsillitis or a viral infection6.
- Inverse (flexural) psoriasis: appears as bright red lesions that are shiny and smooth, usually in body folds such as armpits and the groin5. Most people with inverse psoriasis will have another type of psoriasis affecting another part of their body at the same time.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis: a severe and rare form of psoriasis that affects most of the body. It affects around 3% of people who have psoriasis5.
Who can get psoriasis?
Anyone can get psoriasis. There are around 125 million people with psoriasis globally, and it affects males and females equally5. More than 1.6 million Australians live with psoriasis.
Psoriasis can develop at any age but usually starts in adults in their early 30s, with 75% of affected people developing psoriasis before they’re 456.
How is psoriasis diagnosed?
You should see your doctor and ask for a referral to a dermatologist if you think you may have psoriasis. Because skin rashes are common, they will have to rule out other causes, such as allergic reactions to food or medication, before they can make a diagnosis of psoriasis7.
How is psoriasis treated?
There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are many treatments that can help you keep it under control4.
Mild psoriasis is usually treated with topical products including moisturisers, tar preparations, dithranol, corticosteroid creams or vitamin D preparations4. Sufferers might also receive ultraviolet (UV) therapy to slow down the production of skin cells4.
If your psoriasis is more severe, your doctor may prescribe oral or injected medications4.
Is psoriasis curable?
There is no cure for psoriasis, but it can be controlled with treatment3.
Is psoriasis contagious?
No, psoriasis is not contagious. Although it can look like a rash, it can’t be spread by touch or being close to a person who has it2.
Can psoriasis cause arthritis?
For an unknown reason, psoriasis can sometimes cause a form of arthritis known as psoriatic arthritis which may cause3:
- Discomfort, throbbing or swelling in one or many joints
- Tenderness in any joint
- Inflammation in the joints, which causes nerve pain
The joints most likely to be affected by psoriatic arthritis are the last joint in the fingers or toes, the sacrum (lower back), wrists, knees or ankles3.
Are there any other complications associated with psoriasis?
Psoriasis can be controlled with treatment, however people with severe psoriasis have an increased risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease3,4.
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