Skin Condition: Psoriasis

‘Psoriasis is a common, incurable and stubborn skin condition that affects about 2% of the UK population,’ says Sarah Wakelin, a consultant dermatologist at St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

 It can start at any age but most commonly appears during the teenage years or at mid life.

What are the symptoms?

Psoriasis causes pink or red patches of skin covered in silvery scales to appear on the scalp, elbows, lower back and knees. ‘Patches can vary in size from small droplets to saucer-sized plaques, the name for psoriasis lesions,’ explains Dr Wakelin. The severity of psoriasis also varies – from person to person and with time. ‘Psoriasis can last a lifetime and sufferers may experience flare ups as well as partial remission.’ Patches of skin affected by psoriasis can itch, burn and even split open, which can be painful. ‘But for many sufferers, it’s the appearance of the skin that causes distress and loss of self esteem’ says Dr Wakelin.

What are the causes?

The skin patches are caused by a speeding up of the natural process of skin renewal as a response to the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking healthy skin cells. Normally, the cycle of replacing old skin cells with new ones takes around 21 to 28 days but in psoriasis it only takes two to six days, resulting in a build-up of immature skin cells on the skin’s surface that are visible as thick, scaly patches . Additionally, the British Association of Dermatologists states that psoriasis is a hereditary disease and that triggers such as injury to the skin, stress or throat infection can cause those with a genetic predisposition to the disease to develop the condition .

How can it be treated?

‘GPs can prescribe topical treatments such creams and gels that can effectively treat red, inflamed skin but if symptoms are severe, it may be necessary to refer patients to a dermatologist for UV therapy, oral medication and even injectable medication, known as biologic treatments,’ explains Dr Wakelin.

Can it be prevented?

While psoriasis is not preventable or curable, in many cases the right treatment and self care can help sufferers control the condition by reducing or even clearing psoriasis patches.

Read also on Skin Condition: Acne

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