What Is Psoriasis?

What Is Psoriasis?

What Is Psoriasis?


Psoriasis is a disease that causes people to develop thick patches of inflamed skin covered with silvery scales. It’s an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system becomes overactive and attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake.

Inflammation and redness around the scales is fairly common. Typical psoriatic scales are whitish-silver and develop in thick, red patches. Sometimes, these patches will crack and bleed.

Psoriasis is the result of a sped-up skin production process. Typically, skin cells grow deep in the skin and slowly rise to the surface. Eventually, they fall off. The typical life cycle of a skin cell is one month.  [Causes And Diagnosis For Cellulitis]

In people with light-colored skin, psoriasis looks like salmon-pink plaque with an overlying whitish scale, said Dr. David Rosmarin, a dermatologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. The most common locations affected are the elbows, knees, scalp, lower back and backside, and less common types of psoriasis affect the nails, the mouth, and the genitals may also be affected, he said.

About 7.5 million people in the U.S. have psoriasis. The most common type is plaque psoriasis, which affects about 80% of people, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s commonly associated with several other conditions, including:

Plaque psoriasis is one of the five types of psoriasis that affects adults and children. (The other four types are guttate, pustular, inverse and erythrodermic.) It’s possible to have more than one type of psoriasis at the same time.

What Does Psoriasis Look Like?

People feel itchy especially when psoriasis affects their scalp, palms of the hands or soles of their feet.

What Does Psoriasis Look Like?


Psoriasis symptoms?

Psoriasis symptoms differ from person to person and depend on the type of psoriasis. Areas of psoriasis can be as small as a few flakes on the scalp or elbow, or cover the majority of the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common physical symptoms of plaque psoriasis include:

  • Skin with raised, pink to reddish patches called plaque.
  • Patches may be covered with a silvery-white coating called scale.
  • Skin that may feel itchy, or may burn, sting or be painful.
  • Patches that may crack and bleed.
  • Fingernails and toenails may look pitted, cracked, thickened or crumbly, and might be confused with nail fungus.

Psoriasis can show up anywhere on the skin, and the patches can appear separately or join together to cover a larger area. When patches and scales are in visible locations, people with psoriasis may feel self-conscious or withdraw socially.

Most people with psoriasis go through “cycles” of symptoms. The condition may cause severe symptoms for a few days or weeks, and then the symptoms may clear up and be almost unnoticeable.  Then, in a few weeks or if made worse by a common psoriasis trigger, the condition may flare up again. Sometimes, symptoms of psoriasis disappear completely.

When you have no active signs of the condition, you may be in “remission.” That doesn’t mean psoriasis won’t come back, but for now you’re symptom-free.

Psoriasis Causes, Risk Factors And Triggers

Doctors are unclear as to what causes psoriasis. However, decades of research, they have a general idea of two key factors: genetics and the immune system.

Immune System

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions are the result of the body attacking itself. In the case of psoriasis, white blood cells known as T cells mistakenly attack the skin cells.

In a typical body, white blood cells are deployed to attack and destroy invading bacteria and fight infections. This mistaken attack causes the skin cell production process to go into overdrive. The sped-up skin cell production causes new skin cells to develop too quickly. They are pushed to the skin’s surface, where they pile up. This results in the plaques that are most commonly associated with psoriasis.


People with a family history of psoriasis and those who have had viral or bacterial infections, such as strep or skin infections, are more likely to develop psoriasis, if you have an immediate family member with the skin condition, your risk for developing psoriasis is higher. However, the percentage of people who have psoriasis and a genetic predisposition is small. Approximately 2 to 3 percent of people with the gene develop the condition, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).

Another theory is that psoriasis may be spurred by a traumatic injury to the skin, such as burns, animal bites or tattoos.

Other Causes Of Psoriasis

  • Infections, such as strep throat or skin infection. Psoriasis may flare up in children two to six weeks after an earache, tonsillitis, bronchitis or respiratory infection.
  • Skin injury, such as a cut, scrape or bad sunburn.
  • Stress can cause psoriasis to flare up for the first time or aggravate the skin disorder in those who already have it.
  • Use of certain medications, such as beta blockers, lithium and antimalarial drugs.

Diagnosing Psoriasis

Two tests or examinations may be necessary to diagnose psoriasis.

Physical examination

A dermatologist will examine a person’s skin, nails and scalp for signs of psoriasis, as well as ask whether any family members have the disease. If psoriasis is suspected, a small sample of affected skin (biopsy) may be removed and viewed under a microscope: Skin with psoriasis looks thicker and inflamed compared with skin with eczema, for example.

Psoriasis can develop at any age. People are typically diagnosed in their 20s, but there is a smaller peak period later in life between ages 50 and 60.

With the current advancement in treatment methods, dermatologists can help the vast majority of patients with psoriasis much more than they could have just a decade ago.

Symptoms of psoriasis are typically evident and easy to distinguish from other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.

During this exam, be sure to show your doctor all areas of concern. In addition, let your doctor know if any family members have the condition.


If the symptoms are unclear or if your doctor wants to confirm their suspected diagnosis, they may take a small sample of skin. This is known as a biopsy.

The skin will be sent to a lab, where it’ll be examined under a microscope. The examination can diagnose the type of psoriasis you have. It can also rule out other possible disorders or infections.

Psoriasis Treatment

Psoriasis has no cure. Treatments aim to reduce inflammation and scales, slow the growth of skin cells, and remove plaques. Psoriasis treatments fall into four categories:

  • Topical creams and ointments
  • Phototherapy (exposure to ultraviolet light)
  • Oral medications and,
  • Biologics.

This are drugs given by injection (shots) or intravenously. The treatment a person with psoriasis receives depends on the severity of their case and their overall health.

Arthritis And Other Health Effects

Although psoriasis is a skin disease, it can influence a person’s health in a number of different ways. For example, some people with psoriasis have an increased risk of developing psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory form of arthritis.

About one-third of people with psoriasis get this type of arthritis, which causes joint pain and stiffness. Without treatment, psoriatic arthritis can cause structural damage to the affected joints.

People with moderate to severe forms of psoriasis are also at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke. This might be because psoriasis triggers long-lasting inflammation in the body that can affect the skin and joints and may also affect the heart and blood vessels.

Psoriasis Coping And Support

Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders can be side effects of psoriasis. You may benefit from therapy or support groups where you can meet other people experiencing similar issues or concerns.

You can also talk with your healthcare provider about seeing a therapist who has experience with psoriasis. They’ll be able to help identify ways to cope.

While there’s no cure for psoriasis, treatment can help relieve and manage your symptoms.

Many people believe that psoriasis is contagious, but it won’t spread from person to person. Researchers believe that a combination of genetics, and environmental and immune system factors cause psoriasis.

Talk to your doctor if you believe you have psoriasis. They’ll be able to provide treatment options and coping methods.

Additional resources: 

This article on "Hkitnob: Health Columns" is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.