About 7.5 million Americans over age 20 have psoriasis. The illness is probably as old as mankind, according to The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (the Greek word for itch is “psora”), though it wasn’t recognized as a disease until the early 19th century. If you’ve been hearing more about psoriasis lately it could be because of those frequent TV ads for Cosentyx starring Cyndi Lauper. But new treatments is just one reason people are paying attention to the disease. “More patients are seeking out care and are more aware of their diagnosis than ever before,” says Dr. Leah Ansell, MD, FAAD, a leading New York-based board-certified dermatologist at Treiber Dermatology Associates in Rye. Below, Dr. Ansell explains the disease.
What exactly is psoriasis?
It’s an auto-inflammatory condition in which one’s immune system is overactive. This leads to a build-up of skin cells, which are rapidly dividing and not shedding, as is seen in normal skin. Healthy skin cells grow and shed in a month’s time. In psoriasis, this process occurs in three to four days. However, instead of shedding, the dead skin cells accumulate on the surface of the skin. It is thought to affect about 3 percent of the U.S. adult population.
Pharma ads mention plaque psoriasis—are there other types?
There are thought to be different types of psoriasis, and people can have more than one type at a time. Plaque psoriasis is the most common form. Others include scalp psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, guttate psoriasis, palmoplantar psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, nail psoriasis, and erythrodermic psoriasis.
Are certain people prone to it?
There is a strong genetic component, however most patients do not have a family member with psoriasis. It can occur at any age, but most commonly develops between 20–30 or 50–60 years old. It affects men and women equally.
Is psoriasis connected to other diseases?
Approximately 30 percent of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory condition that affects the joints. Psoriasis is also associated with internal inflammation, which leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and cancer.
Can a poor diet cause psoriasis?
There is some data indicating that foods high in saturated fat and trans fats can lead to the development of psoriasis and the worsening of symptoms. Weight loss as well as reducing stress often eases the symptoms.
How do the current meds work?
Topical creams reduce inflammation and thin the plaques. But there are so many amazing treatments now that target specific molecules implicated in the development of psoriasis and result in nearly 100 percent clearance of skin and joint pain.
Common signs and symptoms of psoriasis
- A patchy rash ranging from spots of scaling to major eruptions over much of the body.
- Rashes that vary in color, tending to be shades of purple with gray scale on brown or Black skin, and pink or red with silver scale on white skin.
- Dry, cracked skin that may bleed.
- Itching, burning, or soreness.
- Cyclic rashes that flare for a few weeks or months and then subside.