Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Essential Guide to Psoriasis

Concerned a patch or red, itchy skin could be something more than simple dermatitis? You may have heard about psoriasis on TV, but still aren’t  sure exactly what it is or if you should see a doctor about your own concerns over getting it. If that sounds like you, don’t miss this go-to psoriasis guide:

What is Psoriasis?

While referred to as a common skin condition, psoriasis is actually a diagnosable autoimmune disease. Characterized by reappearing small to large patches of abnormally red, dry, or scaly skin on the body, psoriasis is a chronic condition currently without a cure.

What Causes Psoriasis?
Somewhat baffling to the medical and scientific communities, psoriasis occurs when the normal life cycle of skin cells is rapidly sped up, leading to a buildup of cells on the surface of the skin. These buildups may present as patches of specific regions of the body or in some cases, covering almost the entirety of the body. Symptoms of psoriasis include:
  • Discolored patches of skin, often red, shrouded in thickened, silvery scales
  • Thick nails with pitting, or shallow or deep depressions
  • Soreness, itching, burning of scaly skin patches
  • Tight, stiff, and swollen joints
  • Dehydrated, cracked skin (that may break and bleed)
Interestingly, flare-ups of psoriasis may dissipate after some time and potentially even go into remission. The root cause of the sped up skin cell replication is still unknown, however, researchers believe it has something to do with overactive T cells in the body. T cells play an important role in helping your body stave off infection by traveling around and eliminating foreign entities like bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

In patients with psoriasis, T cells mistake healthy skin cells for infectious agents and attack them instead. The body then triggers production of new skin cells to travel up to the top layer of skin where they die and accumulate. While this process should normally take weeks, psoriasis sufferers will experience it within days, leading to the rough, scaly buildup of itchy patches on their body.

What are the Risk Factors for Developing Psoriasis?
Unfortunately, scientists are still trying to figure out what causes the hyper-normal T cell activity in the first place. They have, however, nailed down some key risk factors including:
  • Genetics: Having a parent with psoriasis does increase risk for developing it.
  • Excess weight: Obesity boosts risk for developing psoriasis and especially acquiring psoriatic plaques (lesions) in the creases and folds of excess skin.
  • Chronic infections: Adults and children who develop regular bacterial or viral infections are at increased risk for developing psoriasis.
  • Smoking: Smoking is believed to contribute to initial development and severity of psoriasis. The National Psoriasis Foundation shares findings that smoking might double the risk of getting psoriasis.
  • Stress: High stress levels can suppress the immune system and open the window for psoriasis.
For people with psoriasis, flare-ups are often triggered by external factors like an existing injury or sunburn of the skin, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, an infection, certain medications like beta blockers, smoking, and vitamin D deficiency. Harvard Medical School research reveals that vitamin D produced in the body from sunlight helps to keep skin healthy and strong and that people with plaque psoriasis are often deficient in this nutrient.

What are the Types of Psoriasis?
Depending on the severity and location of your psoriatic symptoms, doctors may diagnose you with one of these types:

Plaque psoriasis - around 90% of psoriasis sufferers develop this type which is marked by red, itchy patches of skin covered in scales of silver tinting. Patches may be small or large, and appear anywhere, including in the soft tissue linings of the mouth.

Guttate psoriasis - characterized by drop-shaped lesions, this type of psoriasis is most common in children and young adults who develop a bacterial infection.

Nail psoriasis - irregular nail growth, nail pitting, discoloration, and even a separating of the nail from the nail bed might be caused by this type of psoriasis in either the fingernails or toenails.

Erythrodermic - this rare form of psoriasis will cover almost the entirety of the body with a red, flaking and peeling rash that is significantly itchy or burns.

Inverse - largely found under the breasts, in the groin, genitals, or armpits, this form of psoriasis is exacerbated by fungal infections and the friction and sweat of body regions which rub together.

Pustular - Sometimes accompanied by fever, chills, diarrhea, and severe itching, pustular psoriasis looks like red and tender patches of skin that develop pus-filled blisters.

Psoriatic arthritis - mild to severe joint stiffness, inflammation, and pain may accompany an episode of psoriasis patches and nail changes. Progressive joint damage from this type of arthritis can lead to long-term deformity.

How is Psoriasis Treated?
While many preventative measures can help keep psoriasis symptoms from flaring up, there are some medical and natural treatments which can mitigate existing symptoms and tackle the skin cell buildup, itchiness, and pain.

Topical corticosteroids are medicated ointments which can be rubbed on psoriasis patches to relieve itching and reduce inflammation. A back lotion applicator can help psoriasis sufferers apply topical agents to hard to reach places - see more here.

Vitamin D analogues are synthetic forms of Vitamin D, which can be administered as topical therapy; the analogues bind to vitamin D receptors in the body helping to stave off the worsening of psoriasis symptoms. Other topical aids like Anthralin and Calcineurin inhibitors help to slow skin cell growth, remove built-up scales and plaques, and reduce inflammation. Ointment-based moisturizers should be applied to the skin following bathing to help lock in moisture and prevent excessive water loss that makes psoriasis patches burn and itch more.

Phototherapy is another avenue for treatment and involves exposing the skin to controlled amounts of sunlight and lasers to help it fortify itself against breakdown. Severe and resistant cases of psoriasis may require prescriptions for oral or injected medications that suppress the immune system, fight inflammation, and slow skin cell growth. These types of medications often come with a laundry list of dangerous side effects and are typically only administered when other treatments have failed to work.

If persistent skin irritation like you see with psoriasis patches is inhibiting your day to day life and making tasks like going to work and hanging out with friends hard or embarrassing, talk to your doctor about evaluating you for psoriasis. Early detection and helpful information can have you tackling psoriasis symptoms before they lead to further complications or pain.

This is a guest blog post.

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