Question: What is psoriasis?
Answer: Psoriasis is a common condition characterized by patches of itchy, scaly, and sometimes inflamed skin. It affects as many as 7.5 million people in the United States. Although the ailment is generally mild, it can sometimes be severe, covering large areas of the skin.
Q: Is psoriasis contagious?
A: No, psoriasis is not something you can “catch.” While the scales may be unsightly, they do not pose a threat to others’ health. It also does not spread from one part of your body to another.
Q: What causes psoriasis?
A: Experts are still scratching their heads about the exact cause of this disease, though it does seem to involve an immune system malfunction. Normally, skin cells form then push up to the surface, where they eventually die and flake off. The process takes 28 to 30 days. In those who have psoriasis, however, skin cells mature and move to the surface in just 3 to 4 days. These cells fail to shed and instead pile up on the skin, forming the telltale red scales. About one-third of those afflicted with psoriasis have a family history of the condition. Experts suspect that a trigger—such as emotional stress, a skin injury, infection, or a reaction to certain medications—may bring on the condition.
Q: Can I get psoriasis?
A: Yes, you can develop this skin disorder at any time. In fact, 150,000 to 260,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. But it’s most likely to rear its ugly scales when you’re between the ages of 15 and 35. Your child, too, may be at risk: While infants are rarely affected, up to ⅓ of people with psoriasis get it before age 20.
Q: How is psoriasis diagnosed?
A: The process is simple and pain-free: A physician examines your skin and can often tell from sight whether you have psoriasis. In some instances, she may choose to biopsy the skin and examine it under a microscope.
Q: Can it affect my face?
A: In rare cases, psoriasis can develop on the face. The usual sites, however, are the scalp, knees, elbows, and torso. But be forewarned that the scales can crop up pretty much anywhere, including the nails, palms, soles of the feet, and even genitals.
Q: Can psoriasis harm my health in other ways?
A: Generally, psoriasis causes discomfort more than anything. But if left unchecked, severe cases can be dangerous. That’s because an immune system overwhelmed by psoriasis may put you at risk of developing other serious bacterial infections. What’s more, 10-30% of those who have psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis—a form similar to rheumatoid arthritis in which the joints and the soft tissue around them become inflamed and stiff. Perhaps some of the worst effects of this disease are emotional: Depression and isolation can result from the distress over one’s appearance.
Q: Is there a cure for psoriasis?
A: Unfortunately, there is no cure, but you can choose from many effective treatment options (like topical creams, pills, and injections) to lessen or control symptoms. Trial-and-error with various medications can help you find the one that works for you.