Psoriasis is a common, chronic, inflammatory skin condition. Although the skin is the only visible area affected the condition actually affects the immune system which is responsible for protecting the body from infections and diseases.
There are five types of psoriasis but the most common is plaque psoriasis which affects 80 – 90% of people with psoriasis. It is not contagious.
What it looks like
The condition features circular to oval shaped patches of red skin which are raised, inflamed, thickened and covered with silvery scales. The border of each patch (or plaque) is well defined and small points of bleeding will occur if the scales are picked off.
Plaque psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body but most commonly affects the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp. Plaques may join together to form very extensive areas of psoriasis.
Why it happens
When you have psoriasis certain immune cells are activated and produce too much tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF is a protein produced by the immune system usually in response to infection but it can cause skin cells to grow too quickly, as in psoriasis.
The rapid increase in the rate of the growth cycle of skin cells is what causes the raised red patches. It also means that there is an excess of immature skin cells which do not function normally or effectively.
What it feels like
The plaques may be painful or itchy and at times may bleed. It is not uncommon for plaque psoriasis to clear and worsen. Factors causing the flare ups vary from person to person but are commonly associated with emotional stress, injury to the skin, some types of infections and reactions to certain drugs.
How to treat it
There is no cure for plaque psoriasis, but there is a variety of treatments available designed to alleviate the symptoms. Localised or mild plaque psoriasis can usually be managed with topical treatments alone (i.e. Calendulis Plus Cream, Natralia Nourish Eczema & Psoriasis Cream). These treatments are often available over the counter. Steroids or coal tar may be prescribed by your doctor for stubborn mild plaque psoriasis.
More extensive or severe plaque psoriasis often requires a combination of topical treatments and phototherapy or systemic medications (i.e. Methotrexate, Ciclosporin). These treatments always require a doctor’s prescription.