Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition. It is not contagious. Symptoms include red scaly patches on skin, itchiness and flaking of the skin. Psoriasis can also affect the nails and may cause arthritis (psoriatic arthritis). About 10 per cent of affected people have all three.
There is no cure for psoriasis, but it can be well controlled with treatment.
Causes of psoriasis
Around 30 per cent of people affected by psoriasis will be able to identify relatives who have or have had psoriasis. A number of genes with psoriasis susceptibility have been identified recently.
Environmental events can trigger episodes of psoriasis in people with an inherited susceptibility to the condition. These may include:
- infections – such as tonsillitis
- medications – such as lithium, beta blockers, antimalarial and anti-inflammatory medication
- skin injury
- smoking can also make certain types of psoriasis worse.
Most triggering events remain unknown and there is no specific dietary advice for people affected by psoriasis.
Types of skin psoriasis
There a several types of skin psoriasis, including:
- Plaque psoriasis – the most common form
- Pustular psoriasis – a more severe form of psoriasis that can be painful
- Guttate psoriasis – found mostly in children
- Napkin psoriasis – characteristically seen in infants between two and eight months of age
- Flexural psoriasis – affects body folds and genital areas
- Erythrodermic psoriasis – a severe form requiring hospitalisation.
Symptoms of skin psoriasis
The areas that are most commonly affected are the scalp, elbows and knees, but skin psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body.
Symptoms of skin psoriasis vary from person to person. The effects may include:
- red scaly patches on scalp, elbows, knees and other parts of the body
- itchiness – however, many people do not feel itchy at all
- shedding of scales of skin.
Types of joint psoriasis (psoriatic arthritis)
- joint psoriasis of the knee, ankle, wrist or elbow with early morning stiffness
- joint psoriasis of the small joints of the fingers.
Symptoms of joint psoriasis include:
- discomfort, throbbing or swelling in one or many joints
- tenderness in any joint
- pain caused by inflammation in the joints which stimulates nerve endings.
Symptoms of nail psoriasis
- nail pits – the most common form
- onycholysis or lifting of the free edge of the nail away from the skin below
- oil drops due to a pustule forming beneath the nail
- subungual hyperkeratosis or thickening of the skin below the nail.
Treatment for psoriasis
Doctors may prescribe a range of treatments for the relief of psoriasis symptoms including:
- coal tar preparations, cortisone alcipotriol and other prescription creams
- medications such as methotrexate, neotigason, cyclosporin and calcipotriol
- ultraviolet light therapy.
Biologic therapies for psoriasis
Biologic therapies have revolutionised the treatment of psoriasis and greatly improved our understanding of how psoriasis works. As these treatments are expensive, the government only subsidises the cost for people with severe cases of the condition, and where all other treatment options have been exhausted.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- A specialist dermatologist
- Psoriasis Australia Inc. Tel. (03) 9813 8080
Things to remember
- Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition of the skin, the nails and the joints.
- Psoriasis is not contagious.
- While there is no known cure for psoriasis, it can be controlled with treatment.
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