PSORIASIS is a skin condition that affects men and women in equal numbers, is thought to have a genetic factor associated with it, and is linked to the immune system, which attacks healthy skin cells in error.
As a result, the body produces an excess number of skin cells, which leads to plaques being formed on the skin. Normal skin cell turnover is three to four weeks, but in psoriasis it’s three to seven days.
These plaques that are produced look silvery and scaly, while the area immediately beneath them tends to be red, crusty and tender.
It can occur on any area of the body, but presents most commonly on knees, elbows, lower back and scalp. They tend to be itchy, and sometimes sore.
Psoriasis can initially present at any age, but most commonly in adults under 35 years old.
The plaques are not contagious, and cannot be passed from person to person.
Every person’s experience of psoriasis is different. For some it’s mild and presents on small areas, for others it’s severe and widespread. It’s a chronic condition that can present with flare ups intermittently which need to be managed and prevented where possible. Certain triggers can lead to flare ups, a common one being stress.
Diagnosis of psoriasis takes place through a visual exam and history. Sometimes a skin sample is taken, and other potential conditions are ruled out.
There is currently no cure for psoriasis. It’s all about managing the symptoms as well as possible, by using creams or ointments applied to the skin, (usually containing a steroid or vitamin D analogue),through phototherapy (the use of light to treat affected areas), and in severe cases the use of oral or injected medications to target the psoriasis from inside out.
It can also be linked to low mood or self-esteem due to its physical appearance and discomfort and the effect that this has on the patient’s confidence.
There are things that you can do to help yourself if you’re a psoriasis sufferer.
Healthy lifestyle can be vital in the management of psoriasis. Eating nutritious food and ensuring adequate water intake, as well as keeping physically fit, will all help to keep the body’s immune system from flaring up and exacerbating the condition.
Psoriasis sufferers have a slightly increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular issues, making healthy lifestyle choices even more important.
Regular reviews are to be expected with your GP or dermatologist due to the chronic nature of the condition. This will ensure the best possible treatment and outcome.
Keeping an eye on your mental health and reaching out if you notice any sort of deterioration is also very important. Support groups can reduce any feelings of isolation and be a useful source of additional information.
While psoriasis is a chronic condition, knowing your triggers and following your treatment plan can help to keep it under control.
It’s a chronic condition that can present with flare ups intermittently, which need to be managed and prevented where possible.
Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through her company InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See www.intuition.ie and @intuitionhealthandwellness