Psoriasis is a chronic disorder of the skin. There are actually several kinds of psoriasis, and the most common is called plaque(or discoid psoriasis or psoriasis vulgaris). About 80 percent of people who suffer from psoriasis have this type. It is a very common disease and is believed to affect 3 million people every year in the United States. Doctors don’t know the exact cause of psoriasis, but many believe that it is a type of autoimmune disease. This is where the body’s own immune system attacks it. There is a genetic basis for psoriasis, for people who have the disease also have HLA antigens. Most people who have psoriasis are Caucasian.
Psoriasis can appear anywhere on a person’s body. The most common areas for psoriasis to appear are in the scalp, on the elbows, neck, back, arms, chest, legs and around the nails of both the fingers and the toes. In most people the disorder starts in childhood and continues for the rest of their life. There is no cure for psoriasis, but episodes can be triggered by everything from stress, another illness, cold weather, hormones or medications. It is not contagious. The best way to avoid flare-ups of psoriasis is to avoid the things that trigger it if that’s possible. What follows is a list of the symptoms of psoriasis:
Psoriasis presents as areas of skin that are raised and have clearly defined red borders. These areas are called plaques and are covered with silvery white scales. They appear because new skin cells mature too quickly. Instead of the weeks it takes for normal skin cells to mature, these cells take only a few days. Because of this, they don’t slough off the way that normal skin cells do but build up on the surface of the skin. The patient may also experience a burning sensation with the plaques.
Intense scratching to ease the itch of psoriasis can cause the scale and plaques to thicken and become even more unsightly. Scratching or rubbing can also cause the plaques to break and bleed, which makes them susceptible to infections.
Eventually, joined plaques can cover a large area of the patient’s skin. When the psoriasis covers the majority of the patient’s body, it is called pervasive psoriasis. This can cause embarrassment and loss of self-esteem. Not only this, but a person with pervasive psoriasis is at increased risk of infection and of the psoriasis progressing to more severe forms of the disease.
When psoriasis appears around the fingers and toenails it can use the nails to deteriorate. The nails can develop pits, crumble and even detach from the finger.
Some psoriasis patients go on to develop psoriatic arthritis. Sometimes this type of arthritis develops without any obvious signs of the psoriasis that affects the skin, but this is rare. Psoriatic arthritis tends to attack the joints in the fingers, the lumbar back and the neck. This type of arthritis causes pain and tenderness, warmth and limited movement in the joints similar to osteoarthritis. It can also be attended by fever and fatigue.
Sometimes the symptoms seem to go away only to return dramatically later on, especially if the patient encounters certain triggers. Some patients are in remission for months or even years before they have another flare-up of psoriasis.