Living with psoriasis
Psoriasis is a non-contagious condition that most researchers believe is related to a problem with the immune system. Generally, these types of problems occur when the immune system makes a “mistake.” In the case of psoriasis, it’s thought that the immune system sends messages to the body that cause the skin to speed up its cycle of cell growth. Normally, skin cells reach maturity and shed in 28-day cycles. But in people with psoriasis, the skin cells move to the top of the skin too quickly. The body can’t shed the cells fast enough, which causes a skin cell buildup.
About one third of psoriasis cases are thought to be inherited. Scientists are currently conducting research to learn more about why psoriasis occurs and how to improve treatment.
Psoriasis is most commonly found on the skin of the knees, elbows, scalp, face, hands, feet or lower back, but it can affect any area of the skin. The most common form appears as patches of raised red skin, with a covering of flaky white buildup. These are called “lesions.” The lesions often cause itching and burning. They sometimes cause the skin to crack, and they can make it difficult to bend your joints.
About 15 percent of people who have psoriasis have a type called psoriatic arthritis. They experience joint inflammation that causes arthritis-like pain.
A 1-2-3-step approach to treatment
Treatment for psoriasis can vary greatly from person to person, depending upon the seriousness of the symptoms, the type of psoriasis and the patient’s response to the treatment itself. Often, doctors call the typical treatment method a “1-2-3 approach.”
Generally, the first step to treatment involves applying medication and lotion directly to the affected area and getting small doses of direct sunlight. These are step one and step two. Often, bathing in water containing bath oils and then applying a very thick, oily moisturizer can provide a lot of relief. But prescription medication is often necessary, especially when you’re trying to get the lesions under control.
When symptoms are more severe, or if steps one and two do not succeed, doctors often prescribe medication that you take internally (not directly on your skin).
Treatment for psoriasis can involve a lot of trial and error. You may sometimes feel frustrated if you try one medication that doesn’t work, then another and still another until you find a treatment that works best for you. So it’s helpful to know in advance that you may have to hang in there for a while before you find the best treatment approach for you.
Factors that trigger flare-ups
Most people with psoriasis experience times when they have very few skin lesions and then times when their condition flares up. A number of factors can contribute to flare-ups:
- Climate change
- Dry skin
- Certain medications, such as beta-blockers for high blood pressure and lithium or other drugs used to treat depression
If you have psoriasis, try to pay attention to what your triggers might be. This can help you identify the best ways to manage your condition over the long term. If you’re taking medication that triggers psoriasis, be sure to let your doctor know this. And make sure the doctor treating your psoriasis knows about any other medications you’re currently taking.
Steps you can take to control psoriasis
Having psoriasis can be frustrating, because it’s a chronic condition, which means there’s no known cure for it. If you have psoriasis, you probably meet a lot of people who don’t know much about it and don’t understand what a big impact it can have on your life. One of the best things you can do for yourself is make sure you’re doing everything you can to take control of your condition.
Probably the biggest change you can make to help control your symptoms is to manage the stress in your life. There are a lot of ways to do this. Get regular exercise. Don’t over-schedule your days. Experiment with yoga, massage and similar activities. Consider hypnotherapy if you think other stress-relieving methods aren’t working. You may also want to ask your doctor whether a change in diet may help. If you still feel as though stress may be contributing to your symptoms, talk with your doctor about whether a mental health professional may be able to help you manage your stress level.
Whatever you do, try to fill your days with positives instead of negatives. Stay connected with friends and family. Explain to them that what you have isn’t contagious; nobody’s going to catch it. You may also want to consider meeting or talking with other people who have psoriasis. Visit the
Psoriasis Foundations’ Web site
to find out how to do this, or ask your healthcare providers whether they know of any psoriasis support groups you can get in touch with.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases; National Psoriasis Foundation