What Is Psoriasis? The Psoriasis Symptoms, Types, and Treatments You Should Know About

What Is Psoriasis? The Psoriasis Symptoms, Types, and Treatments You Should Know About

It’s one autoimmune disease whose name was on all of our radars long before celiac and IBS became trending Tik Tok hashtags. Yet despite the term’s vague familiarity, how many of us can actually answer the question: What is psoriasis? You’re probably aware that it involves skin discoloration and itching, but as anyone living with this chronic condition knows, there’s much more to psoriasis than that—and much more to managing it than slapping on some over-the-counter cortisone cream. 

For starters, the fact that psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder means it’s far from a skin-deep challenge. It’s a systemic problem that results from your own immune system overreacting/misfiring in response to external triggers. In this case, a misguided immune response prompts skin cells to reproduce too rapidly, leading to the thick, scaly rashes most commonly associated with psoriasis. The most common type of psoriasis, plaque psoriasis (which represents 80 to 90 percent of cases), shows up as patches of bright red, grayish, or darkened skin (depending on your skin color) that may also be itchy, burning, cracked, and/or covered in silvery scales. These “plaques” are most commonly found on the elbows, knees, and scalp, though pretty much any part of the body can be affected. (Scalp psoriasis—plaque psoriasis that, as the name suggests, appears on the scalp—can be particularly hard to treat, since topical ointments and creams will leave a greasy residue.)

However, this is far from the only form psoriasis can take. There are four other main types of psoriasis to take note of. Guttate psoriasis, a form of psoriasis usually triggered by an infection, like strep throat or the flu, prompts lesions called papules to pop up all over the torso, lower back, and limbs. Pustular psoriasis, which involves patches of skin with painful pus-filled blisters, usually appears on the palms and soles. Inverse psoriasis involves smooth and shiny patches found in sweat-prone skin folds like the armpits, groin, and under the breasts. Finally, there’s erythrodermic psoriasis, a severe psoriasis that’s rare and inflammatory where large areas—80 percent or more of the body—are covered in lesions and a person will feel ill; it requires urgent care. About 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, a condition that involves joint pain and stiffness

While there’s no cure for psoriasis, even people with moderate to severe cases can use multi-layered treatment and prevention to keep symptoms of psoriasis in check—or even go through long periods of time with their skin completely clear. The best first step if you suspect you have psoriasis—most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 to 25, but it can also appear later in life—is speak with a dermatologist or other health care provider, who will closely inspect your skin and might want to confirm your diagnosis via a skin biopsy before discussing the most effective over-the-counter and prescription medications. These can be oral (including drugs that fight systemic inflammation), topical (including corticosteroids, retinoids and vitamin D analogs), or injected (including cutting-edge treatments known as biologics, which block the immune-system reactions that cause psoriasis). On the flip side, your provider will make sure you aren’t taking any medications that could be acting as a trigger for psoriasis, like certain supplements and beta-blockers. A moderate amount of ultraviolet light has been shown to help mitigate the inflammation involved in psoriasis, so many providers recommend phototherapy, also known as UV therapy or light therapy, where you do short, regular sessions in a tanning-bed-like booth in a dermatologist’s office (or use a home version, which may be covered by insurance). Regular doses of natural sunlight can also be very beneficial for people with psoriasis. 

As with all skin conditions, effectively managing psoriasis isn’t all about treatments and medications. Lifestyle changes and long-term habits are key to managing a skin disease. A handful of tactics proven to help people with psoriasis stay in the clear: Keeping shower water lukewarm rather than hot, using a humidifier, and sticking to a regular moisturizing routine—look for condition-specific moisturizers, creams, ointments, and washes with ingredients that encourage skin-cell turnover, like salicylic acid—and avoiding strong exfoliating ingredients or scrubbing (tempting when skin is flaky), since dry skin is more prone to flare-ups. Developing ways to manage stress is also crucial, since stress is one of the main triggers of many chronic health conditions, including psoriasis. Take a walk, do yoga, use a guided-meditation app like Headspace, listen to calming music, snuggle your pet—find the things that help you release anxiety and use these like a treatment option. Some people with psoriasis also get tested for dietary sensitivities, in case a particular food or ingredient could be triggering psoriasis symptoms and systemic inflammation. 

Mental health challenges can factor in for some people with psoriasis, too. Most people find out they have psoriasis between the ages of 15 and 25, the teenage years into young adulthood being a particularly challenging time to begin to cope with a condition that affects your outward appearance. People with psoriasis are twice as likely to become depressed than those without, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, since psoriasis flare-ups can affect your confidence, ability to sleep, relationships and overall quality of life. It helps to remember you’re far from alone; psoriasis affects about 7.5 million people in the U.S. With patience, a good healthcare provider, and maybe even a little Tik Tok group therapy, you can find ways to make psoriasis a condition you can live with. 


More on psoriasis symptoms and the treatment of psoriasis:

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

Originally Appeared on Glamour