According to the American Academy of Dermatology, psoriasis affects approximately 7.5 million people in the United States. Though it occurs in all age groups, it is most common in adults.
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This skin disease takes many forms and it can be tricky to manage because it has many potential triggers. If you suffer from psoriasis, knowledge is your best weapon – take the time to learn everything you can about this condition so you can manage it properly and prevent future psoriasis flare up.
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What is Psoriasis?
At the root of it, psoriasis is a skin condition that speeds up the life cycle of your skin cells. In a healthy individual, skin cells go through a cycle of growth and death that spans several weeks, ending with the dead skin cells being shed to make room for new growth. Psoriasis triggers that life cycle to speed up, causing new skin cells to rise to the surface of the skin in a matter of days rather than weeks, before the old skin cells are shed. The result is an accumulation of skin cells in thick, scaly patches on the surface of the skin which can become inflamed and itchy.
What is the Cause of Psoriasis Disease?
The exact cause of psoriasis is largely unknown, but research reveals that it is related to an immune response involving T-cells and other white blood cells. In a healthy body, T-cells are transported throughout the body via the blood stream. When they encounter a foreign invader (such as bacteria), they launch an attack against the invader to prevent it from infecting the body. In cases of psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases, however, the immune system may accidentally attack healthy cells in the process.
Overactive T-cells leads to the overproduction of skin cells which accumulate on the surface of the skin, causing patches of inflamed, itchy, and scaly skin to form – it may also cause pustular lesions to develop in some cases. As the immune system continues to produce an abundance of T-cells and other white blood cells, the life cycle of skin cells continues to accelerate in the absence of treatment. Certain things can trigger this process to begin even after you’ve gone into remission – examples include certain foods, stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, trauma to the skin, and certain medications.
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Not only are there certain things which can trigger a psoriatic flare-up, but there are also certain factors which may increase your risk of developing the condition in the first place. Genetics play a major role. In fact, the National Psoriasis Foundation states that at least 10% of people inherit one or more of the genes that contribute to psoriasis. Fortunately, only 2% to 3% of those people actually develop the disease. Other risk factors include chronic stress, smoking, obesity, and certain viral or bacterial infections such as HIV.
At first glance, psoriasis can look very similar to dandruff – especially dandruff caused by a condition called seborrheic dermatitis which is characterized by a red, itchy rash on the scalp. The difference is that psoriasis is caused by an overactive immune system, though the two conditions present in very similar ways.
What are the Symptoms of Psoriasis?
The most common symptoms of psoriasis include the following:
- Patches of red, scaly skin
- Dry, cracked skin
- Dry skin that bleeds easily
- Itching or soreness
- Burning sensation
- Thickened or rigid nails
While the most common symptoms of psoriasis are skin-related, this condition can also affect your joints. When psoriasis causes painful, swollen joints in addition to inflamed and scaly skin, it is known as psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is just one of the many forms of psoriasis – keep reading to learn about the others.