You may well have heard of psoriasis or know someone who suffers from it. But unless you have first hand experience of it, you may not know how life-changing this condition can be. While the condition is common, it can vary hugely from person to person; for some it can cause extreme discomfort, and, if it is not managed successfully, lead to depression.
There is still a lot that is unknown about psoriasis, though research continues to reveal more all the time. In the UK and Ireland, it is estimated that 2-3% of the population suffer from the condition.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an immune condition that affects the skin. When a person has psoriasis, the skin replacement process speeds up; this results in an accumulation of skin cells on the surface of the skin. There are a number of different types of psoriasis, but the most common is known as plaque psoriasis.
Psoriasis is a long-term condition that may increase and decrease over time. While there is no cure, there are many ways the condition can be managed. Psoriasis is also associated with psoriatic arthritis, a condition that affects the joints.
Who can be affected?
Psoriasis can affect anyone, from children, teenagers, adults and older people and can happen at any time; some sufferers don’t develop the condition until later in life, while others have it as young children. Some people with psoriasis have a family history of the condition, but others don’t. It is important to remember that psoriasis is not contagious.
What causes psoriasis?
Changes in the skin of a person with psoriasis begin in the immune system when certain immune cells (T cells) are triggered and become overactive. Triggers include things like a throat infection, injury to the skin, some medications and stress. Once triggered, the T cells produce inflammatory chemicals, and act as if they were fighting an infection or healing a wound, leading to rapid growth of skin cells and causing psoriatic plaques to form. It is not yet clear what triggers the immune system to act in this way.
The type of treatment you are offered will depend on the type and severity of your psoriasis. You should always follow the advice of your doctor before beginning treatments, but using a moisturiser is recommended for helping to make the skin more comfortable.
- Topical therapies – creams and ointments that are applied to the skin
- Phototherapy – when the skin is exposed to certain types of ultraviolet light
- Systemic medication – oral and injected medications that work throughout the entire body
Often, different types of treatment are used in combination.
If you have symptoms of psoriasis that are undiagnosed, your GP will want to see you. If you are a long-term sufferer and treatments you are using are not working, it is important to seek further advice from your GP or ask to be referred to a specialist; it is common for treatment for psoriasis to need to be reviewed regularly. Equally, if you have developed related health problems, such as depression, support is available and your GP will be able to begin this process.
The Psoriasis Association raises awareness of psoriasis, provides information, advice and support to those affected by psoriasis and promotes and funds research into the condition. For more information, visit: www.psoriasis-association.org.uk