Psoriasis is so much more than just a skin condition. Although symptoms appear on the surface of the skin, it’s what’s going on underneath that really counts. But what is psoriasis? What causes it? And how can we best treat the condition?
Psoriasis is a common skin condition affecting around 2% of the UK population1. Whether your symptoms are mild or severe, or you know someone who has the condition, psoriasis can affect both physical and mental health, which is why it's important to know the facts.
What is psoriasis?
Uncomfortable and irritating, psoriasis is a skin condition that’s characterised by red, raised patches of flaky skin covered with white scales. These itchy and painful patches can occur anywhere on the body, but they are usually found on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp. The patches are formed due to a build-up of skin cells, because people who have psoriasis produce too many skin cells too quickly. Skin cells are usually replaced every 21-28 days, but in people with psoriasis, new cells are made in just a few days1.
What causes psoriasis?
Although psoriasis symptoms are visible on the skin, the condition is actually due to a problem with the immune system; however the causes are not fully understood2.
Psoriasis can be linked to genetics, so if someone in your family has the condition you are more likely to develop it. The changes to the skin are often triggered by something, such as injury, an infection or certain medications, which causes the cells to become overactive as though they are fighting an infection or healing a wound. It’s important to know that psoriasis isn’t contagious, so you can’t catch it and it can’t be spread3.
How is psoriasis diagnosed?
Diagnosing psoriasis is usually pretty straightforward. Your GP may be able to diagnose you by simply looking at your skin. They may conduct a physical examination and look at your medical history. However, sometimes you will need a biopsy to rule out other skin disorders.
How is psoriasis treated?
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for psoriasis but there are plenty of treatments available to help you manage the condition. For mild to moderate cases, topical treatments such as corticosteroid ointment or cream containing vitamin D1 can be rubbed directly onto the skin and can help to soothe inflammation. However, in more severe cases, phototherapy might be useful. This involves exposing your skin to certain types of ultraviolet light which is present in natural sunlight. UVB works by penetrating the skin and slowing the growth of affected skin cells, which can reduce your symptoms.
If these treatments are ineffective, you may be prescribed oral or injected medicine which works throughout the body2.
Psoriasis doesn’t just cause physical distress. It can also affect your self-esteem and mental wellbeing, especially if the patches appear on your scalp or face. Of the 1.8 million people in the UK who have psoriasis, one in three suffers from depression and anxiety4. The emotional toll the condition can take on your mental wellbeing can be debilitating. Stress can also trigger psoriasis and cause a flare-up, creating an even more stressful cycle.
People with psoriasis can also develop psoriatic arthritis, which can cause swelling and pain in the joints. This is not always linked to how mild or severe your psoriasis is. It’s treated using ‘disease modifying’ treatments which can help to change the way your disease progresses and hopefully stop it from getting worse. You’ll be referred to a rheumatologist for this5.
Living with psoriasis
If you have psoriasis, it’s important to talk to your doctor about all the treatment options available. A dermatology consultation is a useful first point of call. They can help you determine the severity of your condition and make you aware of the different treatment options.
If you also find that you’re struggling with the psychological side of psoriasis, talking about it with your friends and family may help. Your doctor can also refer you to speak to a trained professional, such as a psychologist, who can further support you.
Although psoriasis is a lifelong condition, it can be managed and controlled. There are many ways to approach treating this condition, and it may take time to find a treatment strategy which works for you. However, it’s important to remain positive in figuring out what works best for you.
Our consultant dermatologists can help diagnose, treat or manage any skin issues you might have. Offering fast and convenient appointments, they'll help you to decide the best course of action and develop a tailor made treatment package.
To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337
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