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Alternative Names Return to topPlaque psoriasis
Definition Return to top
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that causes skin redness and irritation. Most persons with psoriasis have thick, red skin with flaky, silver-white patches called scales.
See also: Guttate psoriasis
Causes Return to top
Psoriasis is a very common condition. The disorder may affect people of any age, but it most commonly begins between ages 15 and 35. It can appear suddenly or slowly. In many cases, psoriasis goes away and then flares up again repeatedly over time. The condition is not contagious.
Psoriasis seems to be an inherited disorder. That means it is passed down through families. Doctors think it probably occurs when the body's immune system mistakes healthy cells for dangerous substances. See: Inflammatory response
Skin cells grow deep in the skin and normally rise to the surface about once a month. In persons with psoriasis, this process is too fast and dead skin cells build up on the skin's surface.
Psoriasis may affect any or all parts of the skin. There are five main types of psoriasis.
The following may trigger an attack of psoriasis or make the condition more difficult to treat:
In general, psoriasis may be severe in persons who have a weakened immune system. This may include persons who have:
Up to 30% of people with psoriasis may also have arthritis, a condition known as psoriatic arthritis. Psoriasis may also affect the nails. About 10% of people with psoriasis have visible changes only in the nails.
Symptoms Return to top
Persons with psoriasis have irritated patches of skin. The redness is most often seen on the elbows, knees, and trunk, but can appear anywhere on the body. For example, there may be flaky patches on the scalp.
The skin patches or dots may be:
Additional symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
Your doctor will look at your skin. Diagnosis is usually based on what the skin looks like.
Sometimes, a skin biopsy is done to rule out other possible conditions. If you have joint pain, your doctor may order x-rays.
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to control your symptoms and prevent secondary infections.
Psoriasis that covers all or most of the body is an emergency that requires a hospital stay. You may receive painkillers, medicines to make you sleepy (sedatives), fluids through a needle in your vein, and antibiotics to fight any infection.
Mild cases of psoriasis are usually treated at home. Your doctor may recommend any of the following:
Oatmeal baths may be soothing and may help to loosen scales. Over-the-counter oatmeal bath products may be used. Or, you can mix one cup of oatmeal into a tub of warm water.
If you have an infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
Sunlight may help your symptoms go away. Be careful not to get sunburned. Some people may choose to have phototherapy. Phototherapy is a medical procedure in which your skin is carefully exposed to ultraviolet light. Phototherapy may be given alone or after you take a drug that makes the skin sensitive to light.
Persons with very severe psoriasis may receive medicines to suppress the body's immune response. These medicines include methotrexate or cyclosporine. (Persons who have psoriatic arthritis may also receive these drugs.)
Newer drugs called biologics specifically target the body's immune response, which is thought to play a role in psoriasis. These drugs are used when other treatments do not work. Biologics approved for the treatment of psoriasis include:
Support Groups Return to top
See: Psoriasis support group
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Psoriasis is a life-long condition that can be controlled with treatment. It may go away for a long time and then return. With appropriate treatment, it usually does not affect your general physical health.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of psoriasis or if the skin irritation continues despite treatment.
Make sure you tell your doctor if you have joint pain or fever with your psoriasis attacks.
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have a severe outbreak that covers all or most of the body.
Prevention Return to top
There is no known prevention. Keeping skin clean and moist and avoiding your specific psoriasis triggers may help reduce the number of flare-ups.
Doctors recommend daily baths or showers for persons with psoriasis. Avoid scrubbing too hard, because this can irritate the skin and trigger an attack.
References Return to top
Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2004.
Luba KM. Chronic plaque psoriasis. Am Fam Physician. Feb 2006; 73(4): 636-44.
Stern RS. Psoralen and ultraviolet a light therapy for psoriasis. N Engl J Med. 2007 Aug 16;357(7):682-90. Review.
Menter A, Griffiths CE. Current and future management of psoriasis. Lancet. 2007 Jul 21;370(9583):272-84.Update Date: 4/10/2009 Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Greg Juhn, MTPW, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Michael Lehrer, MD, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA (4/14/2008).