Psoriasis is a skin disorder that causes emotional stress, discomfort, and pain. Here is an account of the symptoms of the disease and its treatment.
The word for ‘itch’ in Greek is where the term ‘psoriasis’ has been derived from. However, psoriasis cannot simply be scratched away like some minor itch. It is a chronic disorder of the skin, characterized by inflammation and scaling. The scaly skin occurs because of an overproduction of the cells of the skin on the outer layer.
About 2-2.6 percent of the population in the US is afflicted with psoriasis, which means a figure like 5.8-7 million people. And, there are about 150,000 to 250,000 new cases that occur every year. It can occur in any age group, but the general age of the onset of the disease is around 28 years. And although both men and women get it, it is slightly more preponderant among women.
Normally, the skin cells in the outer layer regenerate every 28 days or thereabouts. However, in people with psoriasis, this process is accelerated, with skin regenerating every two or four days. Instead of the skin simply shedding, as it does with normal skin, the extra skin cells accumulate on the skin’s surface, in patches of thick, silvery, scaly layers, also called plaques. Along with the accelerated growth of the skin cells is also an increase in the blood vessels in the affected areas, which causes the redness.
The patches or plaques usually are extremely itchy, or the person afflicted with this condition feels a burning sensation on those areas. The skin around the joints sometimes cracks. Psoriasis usually occurs on the scalp, face, elbows, lower back, knees, and even in the palms and soles. It can also have an effect on the nails of the fingers and toes, as well as the soft tissues of the body, like inside the mouth. Psoriasis also induces inflammation of the joints in 10 percent of the cases, which results in the characteristic symptoms of arthritis, hence this condition is known as psoriatic arthritis.
Although it is not fully understood yet what causes psoriasis, research indicates that it could be due to a dysfunction of the immune system. The immune system produces a kind of white blood cell, known as a T cell, which normally protects the body against disease and infection. It is now thought that this skin disorder is triggered off by the immune system producing excessive T cells in the skin. The T cells are what induce the production of excessive skin cells and inflammation in people with psoriasis. This is what causes the silvery flaking of the skin.
It is also thought that genetic factors could be involved; hence scientists are studying families wherein many members are affected by the disease, in order to identify the gene associated with the condition. It is theorized that some specific trigger, like an injury on the skin, emotional stress, some types of infections (like streptococcal infections), or a reaction to a prescribed drug could trigger off psoriasis in those who are genetically susceptible. The disease, like other autoimmune disorders, has periods of flare-ups and remissions. Exactly what triggers off these are not well understood either. Although the condition may seem contagious when seen, it is not at all. You cannot get psoriasis by coming in contact with somebody afflicted with it.
The treatment of psoriasis includes drugs that inhibit the production of cells of the skin, either as a stand-alone therapy, or combined with light therapy, climatotherapy, and stress reduction therapy. Additional treatments include moisturizers, sunlight, and salicylic acid as an agent for removing scales. These therapies are usually used for people who have less than 20 percent of their skin affected by the disease, unless the condition is socially, economically, or physically disabling.
The treatments for the more advanced form of the disease are: psoralen plus UV-A light, or PUVA, UV-A light, acitretin, retinoids, methotrexate (especially for those who have psoriatic arthritis), infliximab, cyclosporine, alefacept, and etanercept.