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Expert perspective: What we know about psoriasis

Photo: andpong, CC,

Psoriasis is a common autoimmune disease that affects 7.5 million Americans, yet little is spoken about the skin condition. It is commonly confused with eczema, a severe form of dry, sensitive skin, despite its distinct differences.

The disease, most commonly appearing at ages 20-30 and 50-60, is a chronic condition that causes scaly and irritated skin. Normal cells grow every four weeks and flake off, but with psoriasis, cells grow every few days, causing the skin cells to build on top of each other.

“Typically, there is an obvious distinction between dry skin and psoriasis due to the presence of plaques, or scaly oval areas of thick skin,” said Ingrid Polcari, M.D., from the Department of Dermatology in the Medical School and the Masonic Cancer Center. “Unlike sensitive, dry skin that can be widespread across the body, psoriasis has a tendency to develop on certain body areas like the elbows and knees.”

Common treatments for psoriasis include prescribed medication and light therapy, or controlled light exposure. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, a person should visit their primary health care doctor or dermatologists to take further steps.

“Ultimately, it is the patient’s decision if they want to pursue treatment for their psoriasis,” said Polcari. “The psoriasis itself is not a dangerous condition and while it can be itchy, it typically does not have a lot of other symptoms.”

While psoriasis may not be life-threatening, associated conditions could affect a person’s health. Up to thirty percent of psoriasis patients develop psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory form of arthritis that can cause joint pain, stiffness, swelling and fatigue.

Recent research has shown a link between psoriasis and a likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. Although the specific mechanisms are unknown, the connection between the two is most likely due to the inflammation occurring inside of the body

“Psoriasis occurs when there is too much inflammation under the skin,” said Polcari. “We believe that people with psoriasis have inflammation inside of the body that is affecting the vessels of the cardiovascular system.”

Polcari suggests psoriasis patients discuss a potential need for extra testing or treatment with their doctor to ensure their cardiac health is optimized.

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