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Psoriasis

Definition of Psoriasis

Article updated and reviewed by Michael S. Lehrer, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania. Editorial review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network on April 18, 2005.

Psoriasis is a common skin disease characterized by thickened patches of inflamed, red skin covered with thick, silvery scales. The elbows and knees are the most common areas affected by psoriasis. It will often appear in the same place on both sides of the body. The patches can range in size from smaller than a dime to larger than a hand.

Description of Psoriasis

Normally, skin cells mature and shed after about a month. In psoriasis, the cell maturation speeds up, taking only three to four days. Because the lower layer of skin cells divides more rapidly than normal, dead cells accumulate in thicker patches on the skin's outermost layer (called the epidermis).

Forms and Classifications

Psoriasis occurs in a variety of forms that differ in their intensity, duration, location, shape and pattern of scales. The most common forms are:

Plaque psoriasis, or psoriasis vulgaris, is the most common form of psoriasis. It is characterized by raised, inflamed, red lesions covered with a silvery-white buildup of dead skin cells (scales). This is found primarily on the trunk, elbows, knees, scalp and finger or toe nails.

Pustular psoriasis is a rare form characterized by small pustules (whitehead-like lesions) found all over the body or confined to the palms, soles and other isolated areas of the body.

Guttate psoriasis occurs most frequently in children and is characterized by numerous small, red, drop-like scaly macules that develop rapidly over a wide area of skin. This may appear following an infection, most frequently Strep throat.

Inverse psoriasis occurs in the armpit, under the breast, in skin folds, around the groin, in the cleft between the buttocks and around the genitals. It is usually pink and irritated but lacks the thick scale seen in other forms of psoriasis.

Some dermatologists classify psoriasis as mild, moderate, or severe. Mild psoriasis is considered to be scaling over less than 5-10 percent of the body, moderate psoriasis is considered to be scaling over 10 to 20 percent of the body and severe psoriasis is considered to be scaling over 20 percent of the body.

In 5 percent of all psoriasis sufferers, arthritis will develop. This condition is called psoriatic arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation of a joint, usually accompanied by pain, swelling and changes in joint structure.

Causes and Risk Factors of Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder of unknown origin, however, heredity seems to play a role in susceptibility (1 in 3 people with psoriasis have an immediate relative with the disease).

Psoriasis can be triggered by a number of factors, such as stress, climate changes, streptococcal or HIV infection, superficial wounds, physical illness, or taking certain drugs such as lithium, beta-blockers such as propranolol, quinidine (a heart medication) or antimalarial medications.

Diagnosis of Psoriasis

Dermatologists diagnose psoriasis by examining the skin and noting specific characteristics of the lesions. Occasionally they may need to biopsy the lesion and examine the skin under a microscope to confirm diagnosis. There are no blood tests or other laboratory tests available for establishing diagnosis.

NOTE: Homoeopathy treats the disorder effectively and permanently.