Your skin is the largest organ in the body, protecting your internal organs, skeleton and muscles from the outside world, regulating temperature and vitamin D absorption, and giving us the sense of touch. As skin is such a large and complex part of our body, it’s no wonder that there are many conditions and diseases, both rare and common, that are associated with the skin. We’ve previously written a blogpost on all things skin, from its functions to the most common skin conditions, but this week we are focussing on one particular skin condition. August is Psoriasis Awareness Month in the USA, so read on to hear all the main symptoms, causes, treatments and information on Psoriasis.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, which causes the skin to regenerate much quicker than healthy skin. Our skin has three layers, the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the top layer that we see from the outside, and it is this layer which is affected with psoriasis. This layer of skin is constantly regenerating its cells, and in a healthy epidermis this process takes around 3-4 weeks, without us noticing anything is really happening. However, for those with psoriasis, the immune system incorrectly attacks the skins cells and causes them regenerate much quicker, in around 3-7 days. The result is patches of dry flaky and sometimes itchy skin, as the cells try to regenerate too quickly. Psoriasis is an immune condition, meaning it is not contagious and cannot be passed from person to person.
Genetics play a large part in psoriasis, with the condition often being passed down through generations in different severities. The exact nature of these genetics, however, is unknown, and we’re not really sure why the immune system chooses to attack the skin cells. Most people with psoriasis will experience periods of time with little or no symptoms, and flare ups of the condition where the skin will worsen. These flares of the disease can be caused by personal triggers, which vary, but some common ones are throat infections, stress and certain medicines. Other than that, the causes of psoriasis are a mystery.
There are different types of psoriasis but the main type that most commonly occurs is plaque psoriasis. The most distinctive symptom this is the dry, irritated and red patches (or plaques) of skin, with a silvery scale. Patches are most commonly found on the scalp, elbows, knees and back, but they can appear anywhere.
Another possible symptom of psoriasis is psoriatic arthritis. This is a stiffening of joints due to inflammation, particularly in the fingers or toes, and can be quite painful. It is thought this happens because the immune system also attacks the cells in the joints, although it is unclear why this only happens to some people.
Arthritis can occur under the nails, causing nails to become damaged, dented, uneven or discoloured. This affects around half of the people with psoriasis, and can be very uncomfortable.
There is currently no cure for psoriasis, mainly because we know so little about its causes. There are, however treatments around to help ease symptoms and the appearance of the skin. It is thought that vitamin D does some good in regulating the skin’s regeneration and therefore easing symptoms. These can come in topical creams or ointments, or in some cases through ultraviolet phototherapy. The success of these treatments vary, and because the condition tends to have periods of time when it clears itself, it is hard to trace the efficacy. Other recommendations include being very careful about allergens and ensuring any products are irritating the skin further.
If you are concerned about any of the symptoms discussed in this blogpost, enter them into the Isabel Symptom Checker and discuss the results with your doctor.
Mandy has worked for Isabel Healthcare since 2000. Prior to this, she was a Senior Staff Nurse on the Pediatric Infectious disease ward and high dependency unit at one of London's top hospitals, St Mary’s in Paddington which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Her experience in the healthcare industry for the past 28 years in both the UK and USA means she's a vital resource for our organization. Mandy currently lives and works in Scottsdale, Arizona.