Psoriasis is thought to be a chronic immune mediated or autoimmune skin condition.
Psoriasis is common! It is estimated to affect about 2-3 % of the population and can start at any point in life- childhood or adulthood.
Psoriasis most often appears as pink scaling patches or plaques. Usually these are found on knees, elbows and the scalp. However, it can occur anywhere from head to toe. When it occurs under the breasts or in the fold between the hip and groin or under the belly it is often red, raw and shiny. When it affects the nails it can appear as little pits in the nails or oil spots.
I find the most common trigger by far and away is stress. I’ve had two year olds with new onset of psoriasis when they start with a new babysitter or are potty training and I’ve had 85 year old patients with new onset of psoriasis when a spouse passes. I tend to tell patients to think of it as a ‘check engine light’- at times the flares will tell you that you are taking on more than you can handle!
For many, however, there is no rhyme or reason to the flares. Other common triggers are injuries to the skin (psoriasis can often show up in surgical scars), medications can trigger it, infections (strep throat is linked to a particular type of psoriasis called gut rate), weather changes, smoking and alcohol use.
Flares from psoriasis can come and go but it is overall a chronic condition. Those with psoriasis will often always have a tendency towards developing.
I break this down for patients as ranging from topicals, to light therapy to medications by mouth or injectables. This starts us at minimal side effects to more potential for them. The treatment choice is a personal decision for patients. We cannot necessarily judge patient’s day to day experience living with this type of skin condition. Although most people that choose light therapy or injectables/ oral medications tend to have more extensive disease, anyone can consider these based on their quality of life.
Topical medications tend to be steroids, nonsteroidals, vitamin D analogs, and retinoids. They work well with topical steroids as more effective. The issue tends to be the need to reapply, or extensively apply which can be difficult.
Phototherapy is a great option for people not ready to do something more with systemic medications but need to treat larger parts of their bodies. Treatments are quick, 2-3 times per week.
Oral medications and injectables have become very popular and are extremely effective. I find they have changed the face of psoriasis because we finally have options that can clear patients effectively. These can work by either suppressing or altering the immune system that is overactive in psoriasis.
Psoriasis can be anywhere from head to toe but most commonly elbows, knees, scalp.
Severity is dictated by location and extent of the disease. If psoriasis shows up in sensitive areas like the folds (under the breasts or belly) or hands and feet that can make it difficult to get through work or the day. How extensive the body surface area covered by psoriasis can also dictate how severe it is.
Usually people seek out new drugs because their other treatments have been ineffective, not tolerated well, or developing side effects. Steroids can cause thinning of the skin over time, for example.