Do you have scaly pink or red patches on the knees, elbows, chest, nails, lower back and scalp? Are they slightly raised with red borders and covered with large white or silvery scales? Do they itch and do you also have arthritis? If you said “yes,” you probably have psoriasis – a common skin disorder that affects both men and women.
Psoriasis usually appears in late childhood or young adulthood. Its cause is unknown but it may be an autoimmune disorder, that is, a disease in which the immune system produces antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues.
The red patches that accompany the disease are produced when skin cells multiply about 10 times faster than they should. Though psoriasis is neither contagious nor dangerous, the red patches have disfigured millions of people. Worrying about them, however, won’t help since periods of emotional stress can trigger the disease and make things worse. Other factors associated with psoriasis are rheumatoid arthritis, injury, a viral or bacterial infection, cold climates and a family history of the disease.
“Normally, new cells take about a month to move from the lowest skin layer where they’re produced, to the outermost layer where they die and flake off. With psoriasis, the entire life cycle takes only days. As a result, cells build up rapidly, forming thick silvery scales and itchy, dry, red patches that are sometimes painful,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
At present, there is no cure for psoriasis. Neither can the disease be prevented so your doctor may try several treatments before he or she arrives at one that can keep your skin clean and control the disease.
“Psoriasis is a persistent, long-lasting (chronic) disease. You may have periods when your psoriasis symptoms improve or go into remission alternating with times your psoriasis becomes worse. For some people, psoriasis is just a nuisance. For others, it’s disabling, especially when associated with arthritis. No cure exists, but psoriasis treatments may offer significant relief. And self-care measures, such as using a nonprescription cortisone cream and exposing your skin to small amounts of ultraviolet light, can improve your psoriasis symptoms,” said the Mayo Clinic.
Treatments include topical corticosteroids, coal or tar lotions, anthralin and in severe cases, PUVA treatment. This is short for psoralens and ultraviolet A light therapy which slows down the abnormal production of skin cells responsible for the disease. The anti-cancer drug methotrexate also slows down skin cell reproduction and works well for stubborn cases of psoriasis. But it has serious side effects and should be used carefully.
“Whatever treatment is used, it’s important to keep the skin clean and avoid irritating soaps and skin products,” said Kurt Butler and Dr. Lynn Rayner of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii in “The Best Medicine.”
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