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Psoriasis is a common inflammatory skin condition associated with red, itchy, flaky skin patches, usually found on the knees and elbows, and thick, pitted fingernails. Skin cells multiply up to 10 times faster than normal in people with psoriasis. As these quickly multiplying cells reach the skin’s surface and die, the sheer number of them leads to raised, red plaques covered with white scales. These plaques can be itchy and painful, and they may also crack and bleed.
The disease can be unpredictable and frustrating for sufferers, as it comes and goes in cycles of remissions and flare-ups over a lifetime. Every person with psoriasis has their own unique set of triggers that can set off a flare or worsen symptoms. These triggers include stress, certain medications and skin injury. Although psoriasis can begin at any age, it more common among adults than children, and affects men and women equally.
While there are medications available to treat psoriasis, there currently is no cure. Up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis go on to develop psoriatic arthritis, a type of chronic inflammatory arthritis.
The cause of psoriasis isn’t fully known, but the immune system is thought to play a role. Specifically, it is believed that T cells, a type of white blood cell designed to fight off viral and bacterial invaders, begin to attack healthy skin cells by mistake. This process leads to an overproduction of healthy skin cells. New skin cells move to the outermost layer of skin in days rather than weeks, resulting in scaly patches of skin build-up.
Certain triggers are believed to play a role in either causing psoriasis or triggering flares in people who have the disease. These include stress, cold weather, injury to the skin, certain infections like strep throat, heavy alcohol consumption and certain medications such as lithium. While anyone can develop the disease, a few factors increase your risk: smoking, obesity, family history of psoriasis, HIV infection, and a history of recurrent strep throat infections.