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.
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.
Are There Different Types of Psoriasis?
Though most cases of psoriasis go through a similar cycle of flare-ups and remission, there are several different types of psoriasis. Here is a quick overview of some of the different types:
This is the most common form of psoriasis and it causes the formation of dry, raised skin lesions called plaques that are red in color and covered with silvery scales. The plaques can be itchy or painful and they may form anywhere on the body, including the tissues inside the mouth or the genitals.
This form of psoriasis most commonly affects children and young adults, causing the formation of small, water droplet-shaped lesions on the trunk, scalp, legs, and arms. It often develops after a bacterial infection and it may be a single outbreak or multiple.
This type of psoriasis affects the fingernails and toenails, causing them to become discolored. Nails might also pit or loosen and separate from the nail bed.
Commonly triggered by fungal infections, this type of psoriasis affects the skin under the armpits, on the groin, under the breasts, and around the genitals. It causes the development of red, inflamed patches of skin that worsen with sweating and friction.
A fairly uncommon form of psoriasis, pustular psoriasis causes widespread patches of pus-filled blisters that develop quickly, often just hours after the skin becomes red and inflamed.
Though it is the least common form of psoriasis, erythrodermic psoriasis is one of the most extreme forms, causing the development of a red, peeling rash over the entire body which can itch and burn intensely.
Having psoriasis is bad enough on its own, but it can also increase your risk for developing other diseases. Some of the most common complications related to psoriasis include psoriatic arthritis, various eye problems, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease, mental health issues, and other autoimmune disease like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for psoriasis – it is a condition that will come and go over the course of your life. While you may not be able to completely eradicate the disease, there are simple steps you can take to manage the condition, relieve symptoms, and prevent flare-ups. First and foremost, you need to manage your stress. While having psoriasis is stressful in and of itself, acute or chronic stress can both contribute to an increased risk for flare-ups.
When it comes to managing psoriasis caused by stress, there are many things you can try. One option is to try yoga or meditation. Yoga is a gentle form of exercise that won’t irritate delicate skin and it can be performed in the comfort of your own home. Meditation is also very easy to do on your own – you can find plenty of breathing exercises and at-home meditation guides online. You may also find that simply taking 30 minutes out of each day to spend on an activity you enjoy helps to clear your mind and reduce your stress. Give each of these options a try to see what works best for you.
In addition to managing your stress, making healthy improvements to your diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk for psoriasis flare-ups. As you may already know, certain foods like whole milk dairy, citrus fruits, and processed foods can increase your risk for a flare-up so, the logical course of action is to avoid these foods. You should also make an effort to structure your diet around lean proteins like fish and seafood as well as whole grains and fresh vegetables. Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine and drink plenty of water to keep your body (and your skin) properly hydrated.
If you want to optimize your health with the best diet for psoriasis, you might also consider adding some supplements. Probiotics like fermented foods and over-the-counter supplements can improve and regulate your digestion – they can also calm an overactive immune system since most of your immune system is located in the gut. Zinc supplements are helpful for joint pain and swelling while Vitamin A can help to reduce some of the symptoms of psoriasis. You can also try various topical applications like aloe vera, fragrance-free lotion, and hydrocortisone cream to control breakouts.
While psoriasis is a condition you may have for the rest of your life, there is no reason why you can’t still live your life to the fullest. By learning as much as you can about your condition you can learn how to control it and once you’ve eliminated flare-ups, you’ll be able to enjoy your life as much as you did before psoriasis. Good luck!