Understanding Psoriasis -- the Basics

What Is Psoriasis?

Unpredictable and irritating, psoriasis is one of the most baffling and persistent of skin disorders. It's characterized by skin cells that multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. As underlying cells reach the skin's surface and die, their sheer volume causes raised, red plaques covered with white scales. Psoriasis typically occurs on the knees, elbows, and scalp, and it can also affect the torso, palms, and soles of the feet.

The symptoms of psoriasis vary depending on the type you have. Some common symptoms for plaque psoriasis -- the most common variety of the condition -- include:

 get the basics on psoriasis

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  • Plaques of red skin, often covered with loose, silver-colored scales; these lesions may be itchy and painful, and they sometimes crack and bleed. In severe cases, the plaques of irritated skin will grow and merge into one another, covering large areas.
  • Disorders of the fingernails and toenails, including discoloration and pitting of the nails; the nails may also begin to crumble or detach from the nail bed.
  • Plaques of scales or crust on the scalp

Psoriasis can also be associated with psoriatic arthritis, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints. The National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that between 10% to 30% of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis.

Other forms of psoriasis include:

Pustular psoriasis, characterized by red and scaly skin on the palms of the hands and/or feet with tiny pustules

Guttate psoriasis, which often starts in childhood or young adulthood, is characterized by small, red spots, mainly on the torso and limbs. Triggers may be respiratory infections, strep throat, tonsillitis, stress, injury to the skin, and use of anti-malarial and beta-blocker medications.

Inverse psoriasis, characterized by bright red, shiny lesions that appear in skin folds, such as the armpits, groin area, and under the breasts

Erythrodermic psoriasis, characterized by periodic, fiery redness of the skin and shedding of scales in sheets; this form of psoriasis, triggered by withdrawal from a systemic psoriasis treatment, severe sunburn, infection, and certain medications, requires immediate medical treatment, because it can lead to severe illness.

People who suffer from psoriasis know that this uncomfortable and at times disfiguring skin disease can be difficult and frustrating to treat. The condition comes and goes in cycles of remissions and flare-ups over a lifetime. While there are medications and other therapies that can help to clear up the patches of red, scaly, thickened skin that are the hallmark of psoriasis, there is no cure.

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