What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease that manifests itself as red scaly patches on the skin, due to an inflammatory reaction. The ‘spots’ may occur all over the body, but some areas are more exposed than others. The appearance of the spots may vary. The illness usually develops in people aged 15-30, and it is estimated to affect around 2 % of the British population. Psoriasis is associated with other serious conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and depression.
What are the symptoms?
Psoriasis causes swollen, red spots on the skin (plaques), which can be covered by a white scaly layer of dead skin cells. In about 50 % of patients with the illness, these eczema-looking patches will itch. The so-called ‘plaques’ can be painful, and they may occasionally burst and begin bleeding. The most affected skin areas are those that are often stretched, such as elbows, knees and above the tailbone. However, it can occur all over the body. In some cases, the illness will spread and cover most of the skin surface.
The intensity of the psoriasis varies, which means that some periods occur without any symptoms, while other periods are characterised by extensive invalidating rashes. The disease is chronic, and therefore patients will still be vulnerable to new outbreaks, even after long symptom free periods.
What causes it?
It is still not fully clear what causes the development of psoriasis. However, researchers have discovered that the immune system and the genetic genome are influential to the development of the disease. Skin cells among the patients grow at an abnormally fast pace, resulting in the characteristic lesions with dry and scale-like skin. Despite the suspicion that it may be hereditary, triggering factors for this increase of cell division involve: stress, infections, alcohol, certain medical preparations and skin lesions.
Psoriasis occurs equally frequent in both sexes, and while it mostly develops in people aged 15-35, it can develop as early as childhood for some – before the age of 10, 10-15 % of instances of psoriasis occur. Even though psoriasis lesions may look severe, they are neither contagious nor infectious.
What are the treatments?
The treatment of psoriasis varies since the skin of the affected areas can vary in terms of thickness and cell content in relation to the lesions. As mentioned, psoriasis can occur all over the body – even on eyelids, lips, hands and so on.
Apart from the position of the lesions, the complexity of the disease influences the chosen treatment. Psoriasis is divided into a mild, a moderate and a severe degree. This severity is determined based on how large a portion of the patient’s body is affected by the disease. Furthermore, severity is also determined based on the degree to which the patient’s well-being is affected. For example, psoriasis located on palms and/or feet, can influence the patient’s well-being a great amount, even if it merely covers 1-2 % of the body’s surface.
Phototherapy or topical treatment through ointments and creams are often used when the disease is limited to a specific area on the body. If the psoriasis is widely spread, or if the patient’s well-being is greatly affected by it, oral or injectable medicine can be used. In addition, tar is effective in treating the symptoms, which means that some patients will rub themselves with tar or use tar-shampoo. Furthermore, several patients may experience that their symptoms are dampened when they take a salt water bath or sunbathe.
Development of psoriatic arthritis
Approximately 11 % of the patients that are diagnosed with psoriasis are also diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, and it is estimated that about 30 % of patients with psoriasis eventually will develop psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis causes swelling and stiffness in and around the joints, and it can also take the form of nail changes as well as a general feeling of fatigue. It can often be undiagnosed for longer periods, especially while the disease is in its milder form. This is very inconvenient as early treatment of psoriatic arthritis is very important in preventing permanent joint damage caused by the disease.