August is Psoriasis Awareness Month!
Unpredictable and irritating, psoriasis is one of the most baffling and persistent skin disorders. Psoriasis is characterized by skin cells that multiply up to ten times faster than normal. As underlying cells reach the skin's surface and die, their sheer volume causes raised, red plaques covered with white scales. Psoriasis typically occurs on the knees, elbows, and scalp, and it can also affect the torso, palms, and soles of the feet. It can be itchy, painful, and may crack and bleed.
Psoriasis can also be associated with psoriatic arthritis, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints. The National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that between 10% to 30% of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis.
A variety of factors, ranging from emotional stress and trauma to streptococcal infection, can cause an episode of psoriasis. Recent research indicates that some abnormality in the immune system is the key cause of psoriasis. As many as 80% of people having flare-ups report a recent emotional trauma, such as a new job or the death of a loved one. Most doctors believe such external stressors serve as triggers for an inherited defect in immune function.
Injured skin and certain drugs can aggravate psoriasis, including certain types of blood pressure medications (like beta-blockers), the anti-malarial medication hydroxychloroquine, and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.).
Psoriasis tends to run in families, but it may skip generations; a grandfather and his grandson may be affected, but the child's mother never develops the disease. Although psoriasis may be stressful and embarrassing, most outbreaks are relatively harmless. With appropriate treatment, symptoms generally subside within a few months.