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Psoriasis is more than just a skin condition, and it can affect people physically and psychologically. Although there is no cure for psoriasis, it is important to remember that it can be managed. With the right treatment and advice, many people live well with psoriasis.
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What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an immune condition, which causes symptoms on the skin and sometimes the joints.
When a person has psoriasis, their skin replacement process speeds up, taking just a few days to replace skin cells that usually take 21-28 days.
This accumulation of skin cells builds up to form raised ‘plaques’ on the skin, which can also be flaky, scaly, red on caucasian skin, darker patches on darker skin tones, and itchy.
Psoriasis can occur on any area of the body, including the scalp, hands, feet and genitals, although different types tend to occur on different areas.
Who gets psoriasis?
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.
It affects males and females equally.
Psoriasis can occur at any age, although there seem to be two ‘peaks’; from the late teens to early thirties, and between the ages of around 50 and 60.
Some people with psoriasis may also get psoriatic arthritis - a type of arthritis associated with the skin condition. However, just having psoriasis doesn't mean you will get psoriatic arthritis, and not everybody who goes on to develop psoriatic arthritis necessarily has psoriasis of the skin, either.
What causes psoriasis?
Recent research has found that the psoriasis-causing changes in the skin begin in the immune system when certain immune cells (T cells) are triggered and become overactive.
The T cells act as if they were fighting an infection or healing a wound, which leads to them producing inflammatory chemicals, again leading to the rapid growth of skin cells causing psoriatic plaques to form. You may therefore hear psoriasis being described as an “auto-immune disease” or “immune-mediated condition”. It is not yet clear what initially triggers the immune system to act in this way.
Some people will have a family history of the condition, but others may not. A flare-up of psoriasis can be triggered by a number of factors, such as stress or anxiety, injury to skin, hormonal changes, or certain infections or medications.
Can psoriasis be treated?
Yes, there is a wide variety of treatments for psoriasis, and many people find that their psoriasis can be managed successfully. However, finding the right treatment or combination of treatments can be a process of trial and error.
Is psoriasis catching?
Not at all. It can’t be passed from one person to another, nor can it be ‘spread’ across the body by touching an area of psoriatic skin to an area of non-psoriatic skin.
How will psoriasis affect me?
Psoriasis is a complicated condition that is very unique to each individual. Everyone has different ways in which they cope with their psoriasis, and the amount of skin affected by psoriasis can differ greatly from person to person.
It is important that both the physical signs of psoriasis (how much of your skin is affected by it) and the psychological aspects of psoriasis (how you cope with the condition) are assessed together, and regularly, so that the most appropriate treatment can be prescribed. The psychological impact is not always related to the clinical severity of psoriasis, so do not be afraid to tell healthcare professionals how you are feeling.
If you are finding it difficult to cope with your psoriasis, please visit your GP, or get in touch with us for information and advice.