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Psoriasis is a common, often inherited skin disorder, which may vary considerably in extent and severity. For some people, psoriasis may be a minor irritation that responds to prompt treatment. For others, it can have a quite debilitating impact. Psoriasis can be itchy, sore and uncomfortable. Psoriasis affects about two per cent of the population, with men and women affected equally.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is non-infectious skin condition that causes raised, red, scaly patches to appear on the skin. The most common type – plaque psoriasis – typically causes marks on the skin called lesions. Psoriasis affects the elbows, scalp, knees and lower back, but it can also appear on the face, trunk, legs and arms. Psoriasis is an unpredictable condition and the skin may remain clear for months. Psoriasis may later flare up again with clear skin in between periods of irritation. The most common form, plaque psoriasis, appears as raised, red patches covered with a silvery white buildup of dead skin cells. Plaque psoriasis accounts for around 90 per cent of cases, while other cases include:

  • Pustular psoriasis – pus-filled blisters on the skin on and around the fingers, palms and soles of the feet
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis – affects all of the skin on the body leading to intense itching, burning and discomfort.

What causes psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes increase in the way the body usually replaces old skin cells with new ones. Normally, this process occurs every three to four months. In someone with psoriasis, skin cells are made and replaced every three to seven days. For reasons that are not fully understood, the body’s faulty immune system starts to attack its own skin cells. This rapid build-up of skin cells creates the characteristic skin plaques.

Psoriasis triggers include

  • Stress – can cause psoriasis to flare for the first time or aggravate existing psoriasis. Relaxation and stress reduction may help prevent stress from impacting psoriasis
  • Injury to the skin – psoriasis can appear in areas of the skin that have been injured or traumatised. This phenomenon can follow vaccinations, sunburns and scratches
  • Medications – certain prescriptions for depression, high blood pressure, heart medication, as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat arthritis, are known to be associated with triggering psoriasis
  • Infection – anything that can affect the immune system can affect psoriasis. You may experience a flare-up following an earache, bronchitis, tonsillitis or a respiratory infection.

The impact of psoriasis on quality of life

Living with psoriasis has unique challenges. The flare-ups on the skin often produce embarrassment and problems in every day life and sufferers may avoid contact with others. When flare-ups occur on visible parts of the skin, such as the face, hands and lower legs, they can be particularly difficult to deal with and cause a loss of self-esteem and confidence. A small proportion of people with psoriasis also develop joint problems that are associated with their skin disease. This is a type of inflammatory arthritis, similar to rheumatoid arthritis. This can cause debilitating pain and can interfere with movement and daily activities.

Diagnosing and treating psoriasis

Our consultant dermatologists can assess the severity of your psoriasis, distinguishing it from other skin conditions, and provide you with a diagnosis. We can then recommend several treatment options, depending on your age, the location of the plaques and how widespread and severe they are.

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