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Alternative namesPlaque psoriasis
DefinitionPsoriasis is a common skin inflammation (irritation and swelling) characterized by frequent episodes of redness; itching ; and thick, dry, silvery scales on the skin.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Psoriasis is a very common condition, with approximately 3 million Americans affected. It can appear suddenly or gradually. In many cases, psoriasis goes away and then flares up again repeatedly over time. The disorder may affect people of any age, but it most commonly begins between ages 15 and 35.
Psoriasis seems to be an inherited disorder, probably related to an inflammatory response in which the immune system accidentally targets the body's own cells. Evidence of the condition is most commonly seen on the trunk, elbows, knees, scalp, skin folds, or fingernails, but it may affect any or all parts of the skin.
Normally, it takes about a month for new skin cells to move up from the lower layers to the surface. In psoriasis, this process takes only a few days, resulting in a build-up of dead skin cells and formation of thick scales .
Medications, viral or bacterial infections, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity , lack of sunlight, sunburn, stress , general poor health, cold climate, and frequent friction on the skin are also associated with psoriasis flare-ups. The condition is not contagious.
Signs and testsThe diagnosis is usually based on the appearance of the skin.
Treatment is focused on control of the symptoms and prevention of secondary infections . It varies with the extent and severity of the disorder. Severe or resistant cases may require intensive treatment.
Psoriasis lesions that cover all or most of the body are an emergency symptom that require hospitalization. The disorder may be acutely painful. The body loses vast quantities of fluid and is susceptible to severe secondary infections that can become systemic , involve internal organs and even progress to septic shock and death. Treatment includes analgesics , sedation, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics.
Oral or injected immunosuppressive medications (such as corticosteroids or methotrexate) may be prescribed, but only in very severe cases. Other medications may include retinoids or cyclosporine.
Psoriatic arthritis, which occurs in a very small percentage of patients with psoriasis, may be treated with non-steroidal analgesics in much the same way as normal arthritis.
Support GroupsIf having psoriasis is causing significant stress, consider joining a psoriasis support group where members share common experiences and problems.
Expectations (prognosis)Psoriasis is a chronic , lifelong condition that can be controlled with treatment. It usually does not adversely affect general health, unless it is neglected or occurs in the elderly or very young.
Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms indicate psoriasis. Call for an appointment if psoriasis recurs frequently despite treatment.
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if there is a severe outbreak which covers all or most of the body.
PreventionNone is known. Keep flare-ups to a minimum by avoiding anything that aggravates your psoriasis.
Update Date: 10/25/2002Michael Lehrer, M.D., Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT