Psoriasis (the word derives from the Greek word for 'being itchy') is a chronic and long lasting autoimmune disorder of the skin which affects 2-4% of the population. It affects men and women equally and for many sufferers onset occurs in the teenage years or in early adulthood, and is often (but not always) associated with other conditions, among these arthritis, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, liver disease, Crohn's disease and depression.
The condition presents as patches of skin which are raised up and red, dry, scaly and itchy. These can vary from just small patches of skin, often on the forearms and shins, on the stomach and on the scalp, to widespread coverage on the entire body (where it is referred to as 'erythrodermic psoriasis'). Psoriasis also affects fingernails and toenails in many sufferers, forming pits in the nails and/or discolouring them, and can also affect the joints - finger joints, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles, which become inflamed and painful. Although there are five types of psoriasis, the most common type is known as psoriasis vulgaris, which accounts for 80-90% of all cases.
Psoriasis is believed to be a genetic disorder (ie inherited) where outbreaks are set off by triggers in the environment. Around a third of sufferers have relatives who suffer or suffered from the condition and scientists have recently identified a number of genes that may be linked to psoriasis.
Triggers of psoriasis outbreaks include infections (eg tonsillitis, shingles), some medications (eg lithium, beta blockers, antimalarial and anti-inflammatory medication) and injury to the skin (referred to as the “Koebner Phenomenon”). It is also believed that sufferers who smoke may have more acute or longer lasting outbreaks.
Unfortunately there is no 'cure' for psoriasis, however there are many ways in which the symptoms of psoriasis can be treated and lives of sufferers made more comfortable. These treatments include...
- Moisturising creams (non-prescription)
- Medications and prescription creams such as coal tar based preparations, cortisone/corticosteroids, methotrexate, cyclosporin, calcipotriol, neotigason, dithranol and vitamin D
- UV light therapy (phototherapy)
- Biologic therapies