Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition. More than seven million Americans suffer with psoriasis, a chronic skin disorder characterized by an overproduction of skin cells that result in flaky and patchy raised areas on the skin’s surface. The patches are usually found on the arms, legs, trunk, or scalp but may be found on any part of the skin. The most typical areas are the knees and elbows. Psoriasis can begin at any age but usually starts either around the age of 20 or between 50 and 60. Psoriasis is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another, but it is most likely to occur in members of the same family.
The majority of affected people have relatively mild psoriasis symptoms. Still, psoriasis at its worst can be painful, disfiguring and disabling. Psoriasis can be triggered by a number of factors, such as stress, climate changes, streptococcal or HIV infection, superficial wounds, physical illness, or taking certain drugs such as lithium, beta-blockers such as propranolol, quinidine (a heart medication) or antimalarial medications.
Patches of red, inflamed skin, often covered with loose, silver-colored scales. These patches may be itchy and painful and sometimes crack and bleed. In severe cases, the patches of irritated skin will grow and merge into one another, covering large areas. The patches don’t always itch and are painless unless they crack or become infected, but many children are upset by the appearance of the psoriasis. If the nails are affected they may be thickened with tiny pits in the surface, and occasionally there is arthritis in the joints.
Treatments applied directly to the skin are sometimes effective in clearing psoriasis. Doctors find that some patients respond well to sunlight, steroid ointments, medicines made from vitamin D3, coal tar, or anthralin.
Biologic drugs are taken from living material (human, plant, animal, or microorganism). They act on parts of the body’s immune system to prevent inflammatory disorders, including psoriasis. These work by blocking the activity of TNF, the primary cytokine involved in psoriasis. Alefacept (Amevive) and efalizumab (Raptiva) are T-cell blockers and block the overactive T-cells.
By themselves, moisturizing creams won’t heal psoriasis, but they can reduce itching and scaling and can help combat the dryness that results from other therapies. Moisturizers that are heavy and oily are usually more effective than lighter lotions.
Artificial UV light therapy and oral or injectable medications are reserved for more moderate to severe cases of psoriasis and may have a higher occurrence of side effects. The type of psoriasis and the severity of the psoriasis will help the doctor determine the best treatment approach.