Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that mostly affects people under the age of 35. It's common to experience periods of mild or non-existent psoriasis symptoms, followed by 'flare-ups' when symptoms are more severe.
The most common form, known as plaque psoriasis, usually has the appearance of thick red patches on the skin, covered by silvery scales. These can appear anywhere on the body, but are most common on the elbows, knees and scalp, and may feel sore or itchy.
Other symptoms can include changes to the finger and toe nails, which sometimes become pitted or ridged, or start to lift away from the nail bed.
It's estimated that around 2% of people in the UK have psoriasis. It can vary a lot in severity, and while it may only be a mild inconvenience for some people, others are more seriously affected. See your Doctor if you think you may have psoriasis.
What causes it?
The exact cause of psoriasis is still not fully understood. It's thought to be caused by an overactive immune system attempting to 'fight' an infection that isn't actually present. The body responds by causing the skin to grow new skin cells at a faster rate than usual, leading to the inflammation and scaliness that is typical of the condition.
Flare-ups are thought to be triggered by causes from the surroundings, such as certain medicines, stress or infection. Like many conditions that are linked to the immune system, psoriasis may also run in families.
Diagnosis and treatment
Your Doctor can often tell if you have psoriasis simply by looking at the skin. In some cases, a small skin sample may be sent to a laboratory to aid diagnosis. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your Doctor may decide to refer you to a dermatologist.
There's currently no cure for psoriasis, but treatment can improve symptoms and the appearance of skin. Creams and ointments that can be applied to the skin, such as steroids, vitamin D analogue and coal tar creams, have been shown to help relieve symptoms.
If these don’t work or the condition is more severe, then treatment may include phototherapy (when the skin is exposed to certain ultraviolet radiations) or medication which is taken internally, such as tablets, capsules and injections. Your Doctor or dermatologist will discuss your treatment options with you.
Living with psoriasis
If you've identified any elements in your surroundings that tend to trigger a flare-up, consider adapting your lifestyle to avoid those triggers.
This may involve simple measures like avoiding certain foods, or more long-term goals like trying to reduce your everyday stress levels. For some people with psoriasis, the appearance or itchiness of the skin can cause low self-esteem.
Other people with psoriasis may develop pain and swelling in their joints. If this is happening to you or if you have any other concerns, talk to your Doctor for help and advice.