The Truth About Psoriasis

Kim Kardashian
Gettyimages | Amy Sussman
Health

While much is known about psoriasis, there are plenty of aspects regarding this chronic autoimmune skin disease that still remain a mystery to many people. The condition has seen exposure on social media thanks to celebrities living with psoriasis who have opened up about their experience to raise awareness and remove some of the stigma surrounding the disease. Yet, misconceptions about psoriasis remain.

With August being Psoriasis Awareness Month, we here at The Inquisitr felt the topic deserved to be brought to attention. Here are some lesser-known facts about the condition.

Common Triggers: Stress, Food & Alcohol

Woman scratching her forearm while sitting in bed.
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Despite the important medical progress in dealing with psoriasis, we still don't know what causes the disease -- or how to cure it. The condition is believed to be a genetic disorder and is typically triggered by stress, injuries to the skin, certain medications, infections (such as strep throat), weather, allergies, certain foods, smoking, and alcohol, per the National Psoriasis Foundation.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the autoimmune disease affects about 7.5 million people in the U.S. That's more than three percent of the adult population.

"Psoriasis has a strong genetic component and can be from either the mother or father's side," says Dr. James W. Swan, a professor of dermatology at the Loyola University Medical Center in La Grange Park, Illinois.

"It's likely that multiple genes need to be affected to allow psoriasis to occur, and that it's frequently triggered by an external event such as an infection."

It Can Occur At Any Age

Man with psoriasis on his forearm and upper arm.
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Although the cause of psoriasis remains unclear, the way it manifests is widely known. That's because the skin disease causes inflammation in the body, leading to visible symptoms in the form of plaques -- thick, red lesions topped with silvery scales, which form on different parts of the body (elbows, knees, scalp, trunk) and are usually accompanied by itching and/or pain.

The plaques occur "because the overactive immune system speeds up skin cell growth," explains the National Psoriasis Foundation.

"Normal skin cells completely grow and shed (fall off) in a month. With psoriasis, skin cells do this in only three or four days. Instead of shedding, the skin cells pile up on the surface of the skin."

For most people, the scaly flare-ups usually develop between the ages of 15 and 30, but the onset can also occur after the age of 50. Although the plaques can look different from one person to another, mostly depending on skin type, the physical and emotional discomfort that comes with them is universal for everyone.

It's Not Contagious

Doctor examines the psoriasis on a man's wrist.
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Another thing that people living with psoriasis have to face is the stigma about the disease.

"There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation related to psoriasis or any skin condition that is red and flaky. A lot of people will see this rash and assume it is something infectious or contagious, which can be extremely isolating and ostracize those affected," says Healio.com.

Skin lesions aside, psoriasis can also have less common symptoms, such as psoriatic arthritis (a lifelong condition that occurs in 36 percent of cases, causing achy, painful, inflamed joints ), severe dandruff on the scalp, and genital lesions (in men).

Apart from its effects on physical health, the disease also takes its toll on mental health. The disease affects your emotional wellbeing, your relationships, and how you handle stress, states the National Psoriasis Foundation.

"It could even affect areas of your life that you wouldn’t expect, such as the clothes that you choose to wear."

Exercise & Diet Can Go A Long Way In Managing Psoriasis

Psoriasis on a woman's elbow.
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While the are treatments that can improve the symptoms of psoriasis, one of the primary ways to deal with this chronic disease is to make lifestyle and diet changes, psoriasis blogger Joni Kazantzis writes in Elle magazine.

"Managing psoriasis requires more than focusing on your skin. It’s so important to focus on your physical and emotional health, too. More recently, my doctors have also taught me the importance of exercise, eating well, and keeping stress in check to manage my condition."

It Affects The Entire Body, Not Just The Skin

Person applies psoriasis cream on their hand.
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Psoriasis is a disease that affects the entire body and, as such, having a treatment plan is very important.

"Effective treatment of your psoriasis not only manages skin symptoms but may also help to reduce inflammation in your body that could lead to other diseases," such as psoriatic arthritis, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and mental health concerns, notes the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Treatment options include topical treatments (creams and lotions applied directly to the lesions), such as corticosteroids, retinoids, calcipotriene (a synthetic form of vitamin D3), and coal tar, which "can help suppress the immune response and thereby reduce inflammation and decrease skin cell growth," explains Everyday Health.

Another way to go is light therapy, which "involves exposing lesions to ultraviolet light — either natural sunlight or by spending time under a sun lamp."

A third treatment option, and the most aggressive one, is systemic treatment -- oral or injectable medication such as Trexall (methotrexate), oral retinoids, cyclosporine (an immunosuppressive drug), and biologic drugs that "target and quell specific immune responses in the body."