What is psoriasis?
The symptoms of psoriasis of the skin can vary widely, and will depend on what type of psoriasis you have. Some symptoms can be very painful, while others may not bother you so much. The most common symptoms include:
- Cracking, bleeding skin
- Silvery, scaly patches
- Small red spots
- Thick, red, inflamed lesions
- Itching or burning sensation
- General soreness
- Pitted or cracked nails
- Nails separating from the nail bed
- Symptoms occur most often on your knees, elbows, scalp or upper body. Other common areas are your feet, hands, nails and in skin folds (including your genital area).
With psoriatic arthritis, you will probably experience one or more of these symptoms:
- General tiredness
- Tender, painful or swollen tendons
- Swollen fingers or toes
- Stiff, painful, throbbing, swollen or tender joints
- Feeling stiff and tired in the morning
- Difficulty with certain movements
- Nail changes (pitted nails, nails separating from the nail bed)
- Red, painful eyes
- Usually affects the joints closest to your fingernails or toenails. Other common areas are your lower back, wrists, knees or ankles.
It is very important to recognize, diagnose and treat psoriatic arthritis early on. This can relieve your pain and inflammation. It may also help to prevent or limit joint damage in the disease’s later stages. If left untreated, psoriatic arthritis can become disabling and crippling.
You can watch out for some warning signs of psoriatic arthritis:
- Tell your dermatologist if you feel any aches or pain
- Be extra alert after joint injuries
- Keep in mind that psoriasis of the skin precedes psoriatic arthritis in 85% of cases
- Know that psoriatic arthritis can develop both slowly (with mild symptoms) or rapidly (with severe symptoms)
- You can get psoriatic arthritis at any age, but it most often develops between 30 and 50
Yes. There are six main types of psoriasis of the skin, each with their own characteristics. It is important to remember that no type of psoriasis is ever contagious.
- Plaque psoriasis
About 80% of people with psoriasis have plaque psoriasis. It often occurs on your elbows, knees, back or head as thick, red, inflamed patches. Silvery, flaking scales are also a symptom of plaque psoriasis.
- Inverse psoriasis
Most commonly occurs in skin folds, such as your armpits, groin area, buttocks or under your breasts. In contrast to plaque psoriasis, the red lesions caused by inverse psoriasis are smooth and shiny.
- Guttate psoriasis
This occurs most frequently in children or adolescents. It causes tiny pink spots on your upper body, arms, and legs. The spots are often thinner than the thick patches common in plaque psoriasis.
- Pustular psoriasis
It causes white pus blisters and red skin. Pustular psoriasis can cover your entire body or it can be limited to specific areas like your hand palms or foot soles. It mostly affects adults.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis
A severe, highly inflammatory type of psoriasis. Erythrodermic psoriasis can cause fiery red skin across your entire body, with skin scales falling off in sheets.
- Palmoplantar psoriasis
Affects your hand palms or foot soles. Palmoplantar psoriasis can cause scaly plaques, general thickening of the skin and deep, painful cracks and dryness. This can make it difficult to walk or use your hands.
Researchers are not yet sure what the exact cause of psoriasis is. However, various factors could play a role:
Psoriasis can run in families genetically: up to a third of people with psoriasis report having a relative with psoriasis. Research also shows that 10% of the population may carry a gene that makes them more likely to develop psoriasis. However, only 2-3% of them will eventually get psoriasis.
- External factors
Several external factors could “trigger” psoriasis to develop. These factors vary from person to person, so something that causes your psoriasis may leave someone else unaffected. Possible triggers include: stress, infection (like strep throat), skin injury (cuts, scratches, bug bites, sunburn) and medication (including lithium, indomethacin, quinidine).
- Immune system
Psoriasis appears to be closely related to how our immune system works. Normally, it takes 28 to 30 days for our bodies to develop new skin cells and shed the old. When you have psoriasis however, your immune system becomes overactive. It then produces new skin cells extremely fast, in less than 7 days. This means that your old skin cells pile up on top of each other. The result are the symptoms of psoriasis: inflamed skin, thick red patches and constant flaking of old skin cells.
Discovering what causes psoriasis could vastly improve treatment or even help to find a cure one day.
Psoriasis can be anything from mild (covering less than 3% of your skin) to severe (covering 10% or more). This can change over time: sometimes your psoriasis may be worse, sometimes better. There might even be periods where your psoriasis is completely gone. Some external factors can then cause it to flare up again. These include smoking, drinking alcohol, certain foods, stress and being exposed to cold weather. However, a lot depends on how your own body reacts. This means that making individual lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on your psoriasis.
Nearly 3% of the world’s population has psoriasis.
Psoriasis can affect anyone – regardless of where you were born, what gender you have or what your body looks like. The disease often starts quite early in life (between the ages of 15 and 35), but even newborn babies or elderly people can develop psoriasis. Genetic factors may play a role, but there are also people without a family history who develop psoriasis. This means it is difficult to predict who will get psoriasis.
There is no specific medical test for psoriasis. Usually, a doctor can diagnose psoriasis by looking at your skin. Sometimes, this might include a skin biopsy under a microscope. Pitted nails can also be a tell-tale sign of psoriasis.
No, psoriasis is not contagious. Because you cannot catch psoriasis from someone else, there is no need at all to avoid people with psoriasis – you can hug them, hang out with them, go swimming, borrow each other’s clothes, hold their hand, have fun together, … just like with anyone else!
No, not yet. Psoriasis is a chronic disease and often requires lifelong treatment.
Yes, there appears to be a link with other conditions. When you have two or more diseases at the same time, these are called “comorbidities.” People with psoriasis have a higher risk of developing these comorbid conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- High cholesterol
- Psoriatic arthritis
Because these conditions can shorten your lifespan, it is very important to tell your doctor about any symptoms you have. This can help you prevent, monitor and treat comorbidities. Together with your doctor you can find the proper treatment or medication for your conditions.