Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes a rapid build-up of skin cells. With psoriasis, skin cells multiply 10 times faster than normal. When these cells get to surface and die, the sheer number of the cells cause raised red plaques that are covered with white scales. Typically, skin cells grow deep in the skin and they rise slowly to the surface and finally fall off.
The typical life cycle of a skin cell is 1 month. However, in people with psoriasis, this production process may occur in just a few days, because of this rapid build-up, skin cells do not have time to fall off. This accelerated overproduction leads to a build-up of skin cells. Psoriasis begins with small scaling papule, when multiple papules coalesce, they form scaling plaques. These plaques tend to occur in the scalp, elbow and knees.
Like many autoimmune diseases, there are no clear cut causes for psoriasis. However, years of research have shown that apart from the immune system acting against the body. Some people are genetically more vulnerable to psoriasis. If a member of your immediate family has psoriasis your risk for developing psoriasis increases. However, the percentage of people who have psoriasis and a genetic predisposition is small. According to the American National Psoriasis Foundation, only 2-3% of people with the gene develop the condition.
There are five types of Psoriasis:
Plaque Psoriasis: This is the most common type of psoriasis. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 80% of people with the condition have plaque psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis is characterised by red inflamed patches that cover areas of skin. These patches are often covered with whitish silver plaques. These plaques are commonly found on the elbows, knees and scalp.
Guttate Psoriasis: Guttate psoriasis is commonly found in children and young people. It is characterised by small pink spots that can be found around the torso and limbs. It could be triggered by respiratory infections such as strep throat, tonsillitis, stress and injury to the skin.
Pustular Psoriasis: This type of psoriasis is common amongst adults. It is usually characterised by white pus-filled blisters and broad areas of red inflamed skin. Normally, it is localised to smaller areas of the body like the hands and feet, but it can also be widespread.
Inverse Psoriasis: This type of psoriasis is characterised by bright areas of red, shiny inflamed skin which develop under the armpit or breast, in the groin, or around skinfolds in the genitals.
Erythrodermic Psoriasis: This is a severe and very rare type of psoriasis. It often covers large sections of the body at once. Most times the skin would almost appear sunburned. The scale that develops often falls off in large sheets or sections. A person with this type of psoriasis may develop a fever or become very ill. It can be life threatening so people exhibiting these symptoms are advised to see the doctor immediately.
Psoriasis symptoms may differ from person to person. It may also differ based on the type of psoriasis involved. Sometimes psoriasis can cover just small areas of the body like a few flakes on the elbows and scalp or large areas of the body. Some of the most common symptoms of psoriasis are:
Red, raised inflamed patches of skin
Whitish-silvery scales or plaques on the red patches
Dry skin that may crack and bleed
Itching and burning sensations around patches
Soreness around patches
Thick pitted nails
Swollen and painful joints
Nails that may crumble or detach from limbs
Experts say that some, not everybody will show these symptoms; some people might show entirely different symptoms if they have a form of psoriasis that’s not common. People who have been diagnosed of psoriasis know that this uncomfortable and sometimes disfiguring disease can be really difficult and frustrating to treat. Gloria Edozien in an article on Bella Naija narrated her experience with psoriasis and said that one of the hardest things to deal with while living with psoriasis is “the amount of drugs and creams one has to try”.
This results from the fact that there is no known cure yet for psoriasis, and what works for one patient might not work for another. She went further to state that she started “feeling like a lab rat going through various drug trials.” Fortunately, she has found a drug and cream regimen that has helped her to manage the condition. Such are the trials that people living with psoriasis face. It is important to note that different researches have shown that psoriasis is not contagious. Touching a person with psoriasis will not make you have psoriasis.
Psoriasis often comes in cycles of remission and flare-ups over a lifetime. This simply means that the condition may cause severe symptoms for a few days or weeks and then the symptoms may clear up and be almost unnoticeable, or disappear completely.
There are certain things that serve as triggers for psoriasis. An Italian case control study found that cigarette smoking, body mass index and stress appear to be independently associated with psoriasis. Some of the most common triggers for psoriasis include:
Stress: High stress level may trigger a flare-up. If you learn to reduce and manage your stress, you can possibly reduce and prevent flare-ups.
Alcohol: If you excessively use alcohol, psoriasis outbreaks may be more frequent.
Trauma to the skin: Any trauma to skin like cuts, scrape, bug bites, infections, sunburn, shots or even vaccines may trigger a new flare-up
Medications: Certain drugs are considered as triggers for psoriasis. These medications include lithium, antimalarial drugs, beta blockers, indomethacin, high blood pressure and heart medications.
Infection: Psoriasis is caused in part by the immune system mistakenly attacking the healthy skin cells. If you are sick or battling an infection, your immune system will go into overdrive to fight the infection. This might start another psoriasis flare-up. One common infection that triggers psoriasis is streptococcal.
Experts advise that the best way to cope with psoriasis is to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a positive attitude.