Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition which, while not contagious, affects about three per cent of all Australians.
It is actually an auto-immune disease were the immune system is overactive and causes new skin cells to multiply and mature at a faster-than-normal rate.
This results in symptoms which can include itchiness and red or flaking scaly patches on the skin – called psoriasis plaques – which if not effectively controlled can crack and bleed. The disease can also affect the nails and may cause arthritis (psoriatic arthritis).
Psoriasis plaques can develop on most parts of the body but the areas most usually affected are the scalp, knees, elbows and lower back.
Despite the symptoms being clear, psoriasis is difficult to diagnose. As skin disorders are quite common, doctors have to rule out other causes such as allergic reactions to food or medicines, viruses or eczema before they can make a diagnosis of psoriasis. A psoriasis diagnosis requires a thorough visual inspection and sometimes may involve a skin biopsy.
There are a number of triggers for psoriasis but inherited risk is high. Some 30 per cent of people affected by psoriasis have relatives who have, or have had, psoriasis.
The causes of psoriasis generally remain a mystery but some environmental events can trigger episodes in people with an inherited susceptibility to the condition. These triggers can include infections, some medicines, skin injury and smoking.
Psoriasis is not due to any particular food and so far there is no evidence that special diets are helpful. Although moderate alcohol intake doesn’t appear to affect psoriasis, there is some evidence that excessive alcohol use may worsen the condition.
In addition to the uncomfortable and sometimes painful physical consequences of the disease, psoriasis can significantly effect a sufferer’s quality of life.
Some studies of psoriasis sufferers show that up to 70 per cent will avoid swimming and 40 per cent will avoid playing sport. Some 12 per cent will even avoid leaving their house and 50 per cent of people with psoriasis say it has a negative impact of their personal relationships. Given these statistics it is not surprising that many people with psoriasis also experience anxiety and/or depression.
While there is no known cure for psoriasis as yet, there are treatments which can help to control the symptoms. Psoriasis treatments may include topical creams or ointments, pills or injections, and UV or light therapy administered by a dermatologist.
Ask your pharmacist about the pros and cons of different treatment options that may work best for you.