When it comes to facing the stigma of psoriasis, there's one incident that
sticks out in Robert Schwartz's mind: the time he was kicked out of a
restaurant because of his condition.
After sitting down with a plate of food from a buffet, he remembers being
approached by the restaurant manager and quizzed about his condition. "I tried
to explain I was not contagious," says Schwartz, a Las Vegas man who has
psoriasis on 75% of his body. He suggested that the manager could confirm it
with any doctor.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by patches of itchy, scaly, and sometimes inflamed skin.
Although they can appear anywhere, these patches -- called plaques -- are most likely to crop up on the knees, elbows, hands, feet, scalp, or back. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the fingernails and toenails become pitted in about half of all active psoriasis cases. Up to 30% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, swelling and stiffness...
But the manager was adamant. Schwartz could take food to-go, but he wasn't
allowed to eat with everyone else. "I felt dejected," says Schwartz.
Schwartz has many other stories about the stigma of psoriasis -- being
ordered by a casino employee to put on a long-sleeved shirt to cover his skin,
being told he couldn't try on clothing at a store. Tragically, his
experiences are not unusual. There are 7.5 million people in the U.S. with
psoriasis. Many face similar humiliations day after day.
"I hear it all," says Mark Lebwohl, MD, chairman of the medical board of the
National Psoriasis Foundation. "I hear about people with psoriasis being turned
away from hairdressers, kicked out of swimming pools, and prevented from
donating blood at blood banks."
The stigma of psoriasis can be crushing. But how can a person with psoriasis
fight back against ignorance and prejudice? WebMD turned to some psoriasis
experts to find out.
Living With Psoriasis
"The impact of psoriasis on a person's life is profound," says Robert
Brodell, MD, a dermatologist at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of
Medicine. "You're wearing the disease on the outside of your body." And even
though it's not infectious, people tend to see the symptoms and connect them
with whatever deadly diseases are making news. "People might assume it's HIV,
or drug-resistant staph," says Brodell.
The stigma of psoriasis can quickly undermine the confidence of even the
most self-assured. Well-meaning family members and friends may suggest you
ignore how other people react. That's fine advice, but it's often not
realistic. If someone flinches when you offer your hand, it's not something you
forget. It's an experience that can radically change how you feel about
"People really can feel like lepers when they have psoriasis," says Alan
Menter, MD, president of the International Psoriasis Council. "They're
The stigma of psoriasis can have a particularly destructive impact on a
person's intimate relationships. "Psoriasis doesn't only show up on knees and
elbows," says Brodell. "It can also appear on the genitals." Some people with
psoriasis give up on dating altogether, rather than having to explain their
Because of the stigma of psoriasis, many people keep it a secret if they
can. "Psoriasis is a very hidden condition," says Menter. "It's amazing how
often people will hide it for a lifetime from their families, even from their
siblings or their children." They just wear long sleeves and long pants and
never say a word.
While there are celebrities with psoriasis, Menter says, it's been almost
impossible to coax them into speaking out about the condition. "They're afraid
to let the public know that they have psoriasis because of the potential
stigma," Menter tells WebMD. "So that's why you're not going to see a celebrity
doing a telethon for psoriasis."