The ABC's of Psoriasis: 18 Terms to Familiarize Yourself With After a Diagnosis

The ABC's of Psoriasis: 18 Terms to Familiarize Yourself With After a Diagnosis

Finding out that you have psoriasis can be overwhelming. Just when you’d managed to convince yourself that those angry patches of skin were just a passing inconvenience, and that giving up gluten and dairy was going to do the trick any day now, you find out you actually have a chronic autoimmune condition you’ll likely be dealing with for the rest of your life. When you’re struggling with swaths of skin that are inflamed, scaly and itchy, often on very noticeable zones like your face or hands, it can be devastating to hear that there’s no cure—which there isn’t, when it comes to psoriasis. Thankfully, there are plenty of highly effective treatments available for even the most severe types of psoriasis, but it can take patience and trial-and-error to find the best combination of prescription medications, topical remedies, and lifestyle adjustments that will keep your skin in the clear. 

But forget all that for now. You might still be at the stage where you’re like, “Wait, back up a minute: What exactly is an autoimmune condition, anyway?” When you’re diagnosed with psoriasis, you might suddenly have to fully comprehend terms like this—ones you’ve heard a million times but never had a personal connection to/interest in. From words that refer to different psoriasis variants to names of various medications and treatments, it’s a lot to take in all at once. And as someone who now officially has psoriasis, the last thing you want to do is stress out; that can easily cause your skin to flare-up worse. So here is a cheat sheet for all the terms you might hear your dermatologist drop: This quick glossary of frequently used psoriasis terms is the mini crash course you need to get up to speed on psoriasis lingo and start to see your path to relief and a clearer-skinned future. (Starting with the answer, re: autoimmune conditions.) 

Autoimmune condition

This term refers to health conditions, including lupus, celiac disease and multiple sclerosis, in which an overreaction by the body’s own immune system causes problems. (You might also hear them called “autoimmune diseases.”) In the case of psoriasis, that immune overreaction (the cause of psoriasis) causes skin cells to multiply too fast, which leads to thickened, scaly patches. 

Beta-blockers

Medications that reduce blood pressure, also known as beta-blockers, can exacerbate psoriasis symptoms.

Biologics

These cutting-edge therapies used to treat moderate to severe psoriasis are administered via injection (sometimes home injections) or IV infusions in a medical office. Biologics usually produce noticeable results within a couple weeks and full/near-full clearing of psoriasis within three months. (Small molecule inhibitors, another new immune therapy, also work by blocking the body’s immune system so it can’t cause an autoimmune reaction.)

Coal tar

An ingredient used in many topical psoriasis treatments that is effective at reducing inflammation and scaling. It’s available in over-the-counter and prescription forms.

Corticosteroids

This category of anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly referred to as steroid creams, is among the most reliable topical treatments for quickly easing the skin burning, itching and swelling associated with psoriasis. Topical corticosteroids work by mimicking the effects of hormones to fight inflammation. Over-the-counter and prescription creams, ointments, gels and sprays are available at varying strengths. 

Eczema

Many psoriasis patients’ path to diagnosis includes a common misdiagnosis: eczema. Psoriasis and eczema are different skin conditions, but both cause discolored skin, a rash, and itching. The rashes themselves are different though: Psoriasis plaques cause areas of thick skin covered in scales, where eczema causes a rash of dry and bumpy skin. Eczema also typically causes more intense itching than psoriasis.

Erythrodermic psoriasis

Erythrodermic psoriasis is an uncommon, incredibly severe type of psoriasis. The skin disease affects a large area (more than 90%) of a patient’s skin with a peeling, itchy rash.

Guttate psoriasis

This type of psoriasis, which involves red bumps called papules that appear suddenly across the torso, arms, legs, and lower back is often triggered by an infection like strep throat or the flu, or by a reaction to a medication. 

Inverse psoriasis

A form of psoriasis found in the armpits, groin, under the breasts, and in deep skin folds on the body; it’s triggered by friction and sweat. It often appears flat and shiny rather than thick and scaly, and can be found in combination with other types of psoriasis. 

Methotrexate

An immunosuppressive drug that’s sometimes used to manage symptoms of psoriasis via a weekly oral dose, it works by decreasing skin-cell overproduction and reducing inflammation. However, it can cause serious side effects, so patients need careful monitoring by a healthcare provider. 

Plaque psoriasis

About 80 to 90 percent of people with psoriasis have this version, which involves plaques—areas of thickened skin that are often scaly, itchy, and flushed (red on light skin, and purple, grayish or darker brown on dark skin).

Psoriatic arthritis

A complication that will affect about 30 percent of people with psoriasis, this chronic, inflammatory disease causes pain and deterioration in the joints, as well as overall feelings of stiffness and fatigue. (Patients with psoriatic arthritis will be treated by both a dermatologist and a rheumatologist.)

Psoriasis vulgaris

This more technical term is used interchangeably with “psoriasis” and generally refers to the most common type of psoriasis, also known as plaque psoriasis (see above). 

Pustular psoriasis

Pustular psoriasis develops small, pus-filled bumps on top of plaques.

Retinoids

Topical or oral drugs derived from a synthetic form of vitamin A that treat psoriasis lesions by reducing thickness and scaliness, correcting discoloration, and slowing fast-multiplying skin cells. 

Salicylic acid

An ingredient used in many topical treatments, salicylic acid can increase skin-cell turnover, which can, in turn, decrease buildup and scaling. It’s available in over-the-counter and prescription forms, and is often an ingredient in moisturizers.

Vitamin D analogues

Also known as synthetic vitamin D, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), these topical treatments are often used in combination with strong corticosteroids (above) to achieve fast results and fewer side effects. These drugs work by regulating skin-cell production.

UV therapy

Also known as phototherapy or light therapy, this treatment of psoriasis involves visiting an ultraviolet light booth in a dermatologist’s office, which looks and functions like a tanning booth—only it delivers a controlled dose of short-wave ultraviolet rays that fight inflammation to help achieve remission from psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions. One to three doses a week may be recommended, and cut back once results are achieved. At-home versions may be covered by insurance if a booth is not available locally. (Light therapy can be especially helpful treatment option for types of psoriasis that are challenging with topical treatments, including scalp psoriasis and nail psoriasis—which leaves lesions around and underneath the fingernails and toenails, and creates a buildup of skin cells that can lift up the nails.)

Petra Guglielmetti is a health, wellness, and beauty journalist who taps into a broad network of doctors, scientists, and medical experts to write in-depth service articles for leading publications like Glamour, Health, Real Simple, and Parents.

More on psoriasis and the treatment of psoriasis:

For more information on the treatment of psoriasis, visit the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Originally Appeared on Glamour