What is Psoriasis? Causes, symptoms and treatments

Psoriasis is a common skin condition, affecting around 2% of people in the UK. We consider the common causes and best treatments for psoriasis.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common condition that causes red, dry and flaky patches of skin, which might be covered with silvery scales. Around 2% of people in the UK suffer from the condition.

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These dry patches can happen anywhere on your body. The most common places are your elbows, knees, scalp and lower back.

For many people, these dry patches cause only mild irritation. However, some people have very severe symptoms, which can significantly affect their quality of life. The patches can be itchy and sore, and they can also be highly visible, which itself is difficult to deal with.

What causes psoriasis?

The dry, scaly patches are caused by a build-up of cells. People with psoriasis produce new skin cells too quickly, with replacement cells appearing every three to seven days instead of every three to four weeks.

It is not completely understood why some people produce new skin cells too quickly, but it is believed to be an autoimmune disease, meaning it’s linked to the immune system.

Psoriasis can run in families, and can also be linked to a ‘trigger event’, such as injury or illness, or using certain medicines. The condition is not contagious and cannot be passed from person to person.

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How is psoriasis diagnosed?

Your GP can usually diagnose you simply by looking at your skin. Sometimes you will need a biopsy in order to rule out other skin diseases and disorders.

If your condition is severe, you may be referred to a dermatologist. If your doctor thinks you may have psoriatic arthritis, you may be referred to a rheumatologist.

What is psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is a relatively common side-effect of psoriasis, affecting people with both mild and severe forms of the condition. It causes swelling, pain and tenderness in your joints.

This type of arthritis is treated using ‘disease modifying’ treatments, and you will be referred to a rheumatologist for this.

What treatments are available for psoriasis?

There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are plenty of treatments available that can soothe and improve the symptoms.

The first stage of treatment for mild to moderate cases is usually corticosteroid ointment or cream containing vitamin D1. In more severe cases you may have phototherapy (also known as light therapy), which involves exposing your skin to certain types of ultraviolet light.

If even this is ineffective, you may be prescribed oral or injected medicine, which works throughout the body.

Psoriasis and mental health

In many cases, the emotional side of psoriasis can be debilitating. That’s why awareness of this condition is so important in reducing the insensitive comments that many people with psoriasis have to endure.

Some people with severe psoriasis experience low self-esteem, particularly if the patches of affected skin are on the scalp or face.

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Of the 1.8 million people in the UK who have psoriasis, one in three experiences depression and anxiety, one in five reports stigma, and one in ten contemplates suicide.

What’s more, some treatments for severe psoriasis can have an adverse effect on your mental health.

When treating and living with psoriasis, it’s important to think about your mental wellbeing as well as addressing the physical symptoms.

If you are struggling, ask your GP or dermatologist to refer you to a mental health professional.



What to do if you think you have psoriasis

If you have psoriasis, or think you may have, it’s important to talk to your doctor about all the treatment options available.

A dermatology consultation can be a useful first course of action to determine the severity of your condition and to talk you through available and appropriate treatments, both short and long term.

There are many ways to approach treating this condition, and it may take time to find a treatment strategy that works for you.

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