This Skin Condition Affects Millions. Here’s What You Need to Know
Psoriasis is in the spotlight this month. If you’re wondering, “What’s that?” consider yourself among the lucky. Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that affects at least 100 million people worldwide. And it’s more than just a minor nuisance or cosmetic issue; in one study, 60 percent of sufferers said psoriasis had a large effect on their daily lives.
Here’s why: Psoriasis speeds up the production of skin cells. When that happens the cells build up on the surface of the skin forming itchy scales and patches that can be painful, disabling, and in some cases, even disfiguring.
There’s no known cure for psoriasis, but the condition can be managed. So whether you’ve already been diagnosed, think you may have it, know someone affected, or simply want to learn more, now is the perfect time to expand your education.
Below, Fitbit Scientific Advisory Board member Patricia Norris, MD will help you do just that.
“Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disease that involves components of the immune system called T-cells, which are also involved in conditions like allergic contact dermatitis and eczema,” says Norris.
What Are the Symptoms of Psoriasis?
The most frequently reported psoriasis symptoms are:
- Flaking, scales
- Pink or red patches of dry skin
However, there are different types of psoriasis, and depending on the type a person has, symptoms may vary. For instance, plaque psoriasis and inverse psoriasis typically cause pink or red skin lesions (i.e. plaques) with flaking scales that are commonly found on knees, elbows, legs, back, or in places where skin meets skin, like the armpit and groin, says Norris. Scalp psoriasis may be itchy, whereas palmoplantar psoriasis, which typically affects hands and feet, can cause the skin to crack and become painful. Psoriatic arthritis, which affects the joints, may result in pain and tenderness in fingers, toes, or heels.
You also might experience additional symptoms if you cause “trauma” to an area with sores, says Norris. “If you’re crawling or rubbing against the skin, it may exacerbate symptoms and outbreaks,” she says.
What Causes Psoriasis?
Experts aren’t entirely sure what causes psoriasis. What do they know? “There’s a strong genetic predisposition for developing the condition,” says Norris. In those with psoriasis, the T-cells (part of the white blood cell family) attack healthy skin cells, prompting the body to produce even more skin cells.
“With psoriasis, the epidermis turns over two to three times faster than it should,” says Norris. “We think of the skin like brick and mortar. When the cells turn over fast, it loosens the brick and mortar.” The build-up of cells is what causes psoriasis symptoms. Ultimately, with psoriasis, the skin cannot shed cells as fast as they’re creating new ones. The build-up of cells is what causes psoriasis symptoms.
“With psoriasis, the epidermis turns over two to three times faster than it should,” says Norris. “We think of the skin like brick and mortar. When the cells turn over fast, it loosens the brick and mortar.”
In addition, although Norris says researchers aren’t sure “what causes what,” psoriasis is also linked to metabolic syndrome, the cluster of conditions that increase your risk of dangerous conditions like heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and stroke. In a 2017 meta-analysis, scientists found that those with metabolic syndrome had higher odds of having psoriasis when compared to the general population.
How Is Psoriasis Diagnosed?
Because psoriasis can look like other skin conditions, it can be tricky to diagnose. A primary-care physician will likely be able to recognize different forms of psoriasis and refer a patient to the right medical specialist, but a dermatologist is probably the best bet to accurately diagnose and treat psoriasis. Norris says people with psoriatic arthritis will likely be referred to a rheumatologist to create an action plan.
What’s the Treatment for Psoriasis?
There are a number of different medical treatments available for psoriasis patients that could provide relief, including topical creams, phototherapy, and oral prescription medications. It’s important to discuss which options might be best for you with your doctor, based on the type of psoriasis you have, how severe it is, where it’s located on your body, and your insurance coverage.
Do Lifestyle Changes Help Psoriasis?
Although experts aren’t entirely sure how metabolic syndrome plays into psoriasis, the link between the two is well-established. As a result, certain lifestyle changes that improve one may also help to relieve the other. Minimizing stress through exercise, meditation, or guided breathing, and “maintaining a healthy diet with minimal processed foods and less eating out may decrease your risk of psoriasis outbreaks,” says Norris. Daily moisturizing may also help alleviate flaking and itching associated with the condition, she says.
Finally, although exercise is beneficial for managing stress and remaining healthy, Norris advises those who have psoriatic arthritis to check with a doctor about an exercise regimen that’s best for their needs before getting started.
When Should You See Your Doctor?
Psoriasis can affect your quality of life, but there are a number of treatment options available that can squelch the associated discomfort. If you’re experiencing skin sores that look like psoriasis, don’t suffer. See your doctor or a dermatologist to get an accurate diagnosis.
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