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Psoriasis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

What to know about the disease’s causes, complications, treatments and more.

Most of us have dealt with dry, itchy skin at some point or another. Long, dry winters and forced air heating systems are notorious for causing skin discomfort among many people. But a common skin condition called psoriasis takes some of those symptoms and magnifies them greatly, while potentially causing other complications and health problems in some patients.

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the immune system mistakenly attacks your own healthy cells. It’s a very common skin condition that “causes patients to get red, often uncomfortable, skin lesions on the body,” says Dr. Vanessa Johnson, a dermatologist with Health First Medical Group in Viera, Florida. This is caused by “extra proliferation of the skin. The skin turns over much faster than normal skin,” leading to the build-up of cells in patches on the surface of the skin, says Dr. Jessica Kaffenberger, assistant professor of dermatology with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centerin Columbus.

Although psoriasis’ hallmark manifestation is in these often unsightly and sometimes painful patches of red and silvery, scaly skin called plaques, the disease doesn’t confine itself just to the skin. It also causes systemic inflammation throughout the body, which can cause many other comorbidities or diseases. “Recent research has revealed that psoriasis also affects other organs, including the heart, and can be linked to the development of diabetes and strokes,” Johnson says. It’s also associated with a type of inflammatory arthritis called psoriatic arthritis, which causes joint pain, swelling and damage. The Arthritis Foundation reports that about 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis.

What Are the Types of Psoriasis?

Johnson says the most common type of psoriasis is “plaque” psoriasis,” also called psoriasis vulgaris. It usually presents as large, red circular areas of flaky skin on the elbows, knees, back and scalp.” This type accounts for about 80 to 90 percent of psoriasis cases. “Sometimes it can cover the whole body,” Kaffenberger says.

But there are also other types of psoriasis, including:

  • Guttate psoriasis. Kaffenberger says this type of psoriasis “looks as though you took the plaques from plaque psoriasis and shrank them down. They’re tiny little spots of psoriasis all over the back,” and other parts of the body. This form of psoriasis is usually triggered by a bacterial infection, such as strep. It’s also more common in children and young adults.
  • Pustular psoriasis. This type of psoriasis “can be very dangerous,” Kaffenberger says, because patients develop pustules – essentially pus-filled blisters – over top of red, painful patches of skin. Infections in these pustules can lead to dangerous complications.
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis. This type of severe psoriasis is the least common, but can be the most debilitating. The Mayo Clinic reports that “it can cover your entire body with a red, peeling rash that can itch or burn intensely,” and hospitalization is usually required.
  • Palmoplantar psoriasis. This form of psoriasis affects the hands and feet and can be “very debilitating,” Kaffenberger says. It may be associated with plaque psoriasis or occur separately. It causes redness, peeling, itchiness, pain and peeling of the skin of the palms and bottoms of the feet, which can make engaging in normal daily activities such as walking very painful and nearly impossible for some patients.
  • Inverse psoriasis. This form of psoriasis shows up as smooth, red patches of inflamed skin in the groin, under the breasts and in the armpits. Because it occurs in moist areas and may not look like traditional psoriasis, it is sometimes misdiagnosed as an infection such as jock itch.
  • Scalp psoriasis. As the name suggests, scalp psoriasis occurs on the scalp. Though this form of plaque psoriasis may be confined to the scalp, it frequently extends beyond the hairline to behind the ears or to the back of the neck or forehead. The Mayo Clinic reports that scalp psoriasis is often the first manifestation of psoriasis in children.
  • Nail psoriasis. Psoriasis can affect the fingernails and toenails, causing pitting, discoloration, abnormal nail growth, separation of the nail from the nailbed and crumbling of the nails.
Read on: Psoriasis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

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