What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin disease. Small lesions appear on the skin and tend to grow until they coalesce to form a large plaque. Plaques are covered by white or silvery SCALES, which are small dried skin fragments. Psoriasis is found on the trunk, arms, legs, palm of the hands and sole of the feet. It often affects the scalp, but rarely the face.
Where does psoriasis come from?
The external layer of the skin, called epidermis, is in constant regeneration. It takes about 28 days. In cases of psoriasis, new skin cells are produced too quickly (in 4 to 5 days only) and rise to the surface before the old skin cells have had time to die off and be scrubbed away. These dead cells become the characteristic scales. Psoriasis is a hereditary disease that affects mostly Caucasians. Men and women are equally affected.
How can I know I have psoriasis?
The white, silvery SCALES are so distinctive that it is relatively easy to diagnose. Removing the scales will uncover a pinkish or dull red lesion, and can cause small bleeding points. It can modify nail appearance: fine pitting of the nail surface, thicker nails, yellowish or opaque nails with small bumps or scales on the tips.
In general, psoriasis is not associated with itching, even though some people have a tendency to scratch the scales. Scratching should be avoided!
Can psoriasis be cured?
Psoriasis cannot be cured but adequate drug therapy can make most, sometimes all, lesions disappear. Psoriasis progresses in an irregular and unpredictable manner. Some people have remission periods, where psoriasis becomes latent, of variable length with unpredictable reappearance of lesions and scales, requiring a new course of therapy. Other people have a more severe form of the disease and require more aggressive therapy.
How is psoriasis treated?
Very potent drugs used to treat psoriasis are available only with a prescription. In general, however, psoriasis therapy consists of creams, ointments or lotions applied directly to the lesions. In more severe cases, a physician may prescribe oral drugs in combination with ultraviolet light therapy. In very severe cases, immune suppressants or vitamin A derivatives can be used.
Several factors can affect the development of psoriasis:
- An infection (particularly a sore throat) can result in a relapse several weeks after it has healed.
- Puberty (in males and females) and menopause make the symptoms worse, whereas pregnancy relieves them.
- Alcohol abuse can trigger crises in certain individuals.
- Excess weight can make it more difficult to control the disease.
TRUE or FALSE?
Nervousness can cause psoriasis...
FALSE. Stress does not cause psoriasis. However, it can worsen or prolong the disease. This explains why some patients will see their lesions disappear when on vacation and return when they go back to work!
Poor diet can cause psoriasis...
FALSE. Even though some people think that high-fat diets or alcohol abuse can trigger psoriasis attacks, in reality diet has little influence over psoriasis. We do know however that certain drugs do trigger attacks.
Sun exposure can help heal psoriasis lesions...
TRUE. But even though sunny and dry temperature is known to be beneficial to psoriasis patients, bad sunburn can worsen the problem. Hot and humid environments tend to make bad cases of psoriasis worse. In fact, some people may notice that sun exposure actually makes their lesions grow faster!
Psoriasis can cause arthritis or cancer...
FALSE. Even though some patients have rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, the exact link that exists between psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis is not clearly understood.
Psoriasis can cause hair loss...
FALSE! Hair may be more fragile and break, but the root is located deeper and is not affected. When the scales disappear, hair will be as healthy as before.
Don't get discouraged if progress is slow. If you are persistent, you can control this disease. Don't let it ruin your life.
For more information and support, contact the following non-profit organizations:
- The Canadian Psoriasis Foundation: 1-800-265-0926
- The Psoriasis Society of Canada: 1-800-656-4494
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.