What exactly is psoriasis?

What exactly is psoriasis?
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Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes the rapid build-up of skin cells, often leading to an itchy rash. The rash often has scaly patches and appears mostly on knees, elbows and the scalp but can appear anywhere on the body.

It is a common disease with no cure and can interfere with daily life. It can also be very painful. The good news, though, is there are treatments and lifestyle choices that can help you manage psoriasis.

What causes psoriasis?

There are many different causes of psoriasis. It is an immune system issue that causes rapid skin growth. For people with psoriasis, skin cell production is faster than usual. The skin naturally sheds cells and produces new cells on average every month. This regeneration process helps protect us from germs and infections. For people with psoriasis, skin cells often just take a matter of days to grow, leading to the overproduction and buildup of skin cells.

For people with a predisposition, there are a number of factors that can trigger psoriasis. These can include but are not limited to: 

  • Skin or throat infectionspsoriasis on elbow
  • Skin injuries like bad sunburn
  • Bug bites
  • Scrapes
  • Cold weather
  • Dry conditions
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • High levels of stress

Generally speaking, having parents with psoriasis increases your chances of having the disease. Additionally, race and skin colour seem to influence it as well. According to Adriana Rendon and Knut Schäkel in their study Psoriasis Pathogenesis and Treatment, psoriasis “worldwide prevalence is about 2% but varies according to regions … [and] shows a lower prevalence in Asian and some African populations, and up to 11% in Caucasian and Scandinavian populations”.

And for those who have heard the myth, no, psoriasis is not contagious. Not even if you touch it directly.

The different symptoms of psoriasis

The most common symptoms of psoriasis are rashes and scaly skin. These rashes are variable in size and colour. The rashes for black or brown skin are usually purple with a grey scale, while in white skin, it is usually pink or red with a silver scale. Psoriasis can even lead to dry or cracked skin. It can cause an extreme itch and even a burning sensation. The rashes can come and go or remain for long periods of time.

Of course, the symptoms vary depending on the type of psoriasis you have. 

  • Plaque psotypes of psoriasis infographicriasis causes dry and itchy raised skin patches, which are covered with scales that are most commonly found on the elbows, knees, or scalp.
  • Nail psoriasis affects both fingernails and toenails, causing pitting and discolouration. This often causes nails to come loose. 
  • Inverse psoriasis appears in the skin folds of the buttocks, breasts, and groin, which generally leads to smoother inflamed skin than other types of psoriasis.
  • Guttate psoriasis, seen most commonly in young adults and children, usually results in spots on the arms and legs and sometimes on the chest area.
  • Pustular psoriasis causes blisters, which vary greatly in size and appear on most parts of the body, but also appear in small patches on the palms.
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis can cover the entire body with an extremely painful peeling rash. This itches a lot and can burn intensely in its most extreme cases.

How serious is psoriasis?

Psoriasis patients are commonly categorised into two groups; mild and moderate to severe. According to Rendon and Schäkel, this depends “on the clinical severity of the lesions, the percentage of affected body surface area, and patient quality of life”. By some measurements, psoriasis covering more than five per cent of the body, is considered moderate to severe.

Furthermore, you could be at risk of getting a lot of other conditions if you have psoriasis. These can vary,  from eye conditions, like blepharitis or uveitis, to cardiovascular disease. A person with psoriasis can also have an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases, like Crohn’s disease or sclerosis. You may also have around a 30 per cent chance of developing psoriatic arthritis. 

Having psoriasis has been proven to negatively impact the mental health of sufferers. The study mentioned above concluded that mental health scores for “patients with psoriasis were similar to those seen in psychiatric illnesses”. Due to the often very noticeable nature of psoriasis, it is common for people to feel self-conscious. 

The disease can have severe consequences in its most extreme form – erythrodermic psoriasis. In most cases of erythrodermic psoriasis, the sufferer had a less mild version before its evolution to this very serious form, so it is always worth seeking treatment for psoriasis.

How to treat psoriasis

There are a number of ways to treat psoriasis that aim to reduce inflammation, remove plaques and slow the growth of skin cells. The treatments are usually either topical treatments or systemic medications.

There are topical treatments that can be potentially prescribed when you talk to a doctor. In addition, systemic medications can be used but are usually reserved for people with moderate to severe psoriasis. Once again, they require a doctor’s prescription, as they can have some side effects.

Healthier diets are thought to reduce psoriasis symptoms as well. Reducing the intake of saturated fats, highly processed foods, and drinking less alcohol can contribute.

woman with psoriasis on arms drawing

According to Stephen Schumack of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, some exposure to sunlight can help treat psoriasis. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, as even “a little bit of sun exposure will actually help control and keep psoriasis at bay”.

Successfully reducing your stress levels can also help reduce your symptoms, even though having psoriasis can cause stress. It is important to seek treatment for the condition. For more detail on ENRICH Clinic’s treatment options, see our Psoriasis & its treatment page. To book a consultation and discuss the best treatment option for you, contact ENRICH Clinic on 03 9500 9500. We provide psoriasis treatment for both adults and children.

Scalp psoriasis and its treatment

Scalp psoriasis is extremely common for people with psoriasis on other parts of their body. Therefore, it is commonly how people discover they have the disease. It is seen in about half of people with psoriasis, as concluded in a large study in 2016. The symptoms are similar to others; reddish or pink scaly patches can often spread to your forehead, ears and even the back of your neck.

Just like the other forms, scalp psoriasis has no known cause but has been linked to issues with the immune system. Additionally, it is believed to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors.

Scalp psoriasis has advantages in terms of treatment because, in many cases, it can be managed without extreme intervention. There are a number of treatments and even shampoos that can help with this much milder form.  

If you have psoriasis or another skin condition

Filling out an enquiry form can be the first step towards quality advice and treatment for scalp psoriasis or other forms of this skin condition. Or you can call 03 9500 9500  to make an appointment to come into our clinic, which is conveniently located on High Street, Armadale, Melbourne.

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Please Note:

*With all surgeries or procedures, there are risks. Consult your physician (GP) before undertaking any surgical or cosmetic procedure. Please read the consent forms carefully and be informed about every aspect of your treatment. Surgeries such as liposuction have a mandatory seven-day cooling-off period to give patients adequate time to be sure of their surgery choice. Results may also vary from person to person due to many factors, including the individual’s genetics, diet and exercise. Before and after photos are only relevant to the patient in the photo and do not necessarily reflect the results other patients may experience. Ask questions. Our team of dermatologists, doctors and nurses are here to help you with any of your queries. This page is not advice and is intended to be informational only. We endeavour to keep all our information up to date; however, this site is intended as a guide and not a definitive information portal or in any way constitutes medical advice.

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