What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious disease that mainly affects the skin. It causes patches of red, thickened skin with silvery-white scales, although some patients have no skin symptoms. These scaly patches (psoriatic plaques) are areas of inflammation where the skin is growing too fast. Plaques usually occur on the skin of the trunk, elbows and knees, but can affect any area including fingernails, toenails, the scalp, palms of hands and soles of feet, inside skin folds, and genitals. It tends to occur on the skin on the outside of joints, rather than the inside (in contrast, eczema more likely to be on the skin on the inside of joints).
Psoriasis is currently suspected to be autoimmune in origin. The cause of psoriasis is not exact, but it is also believed to have a genetic component.
Psoriasis affects both sexes equally, and can occur at any age. Most commonly it appears for the first time between the ages of 15 and 25 years.
It affects 2-3% of the population in USA and other western countries. About a third of those affected have a moderate to severe case. One in three of those affected have a family history of the disease.
Psoriasis causes itching, pain, social embarrassment, and is costly and time-consuming to care for. Some people suffer depression and social / sexual isolation as a result of their embarrassment about their condition.
Forms of psoriasis
Plaque psoriasis (psoriasis vulgaris) is the most common form, comprising 80-90% of cases. It varies in severity from minor localised patches to complete body coverage. The areas can be itchy and painful.
Fingernails and toenails are frequently affected (psoriatic nail dystrophy). Sometimes nail psoriasis occurs in isolation. It shows as a discolouring under the nail plate, pitting of the nails, lines going across the nails, thickening of the skin under the nail, and the loosening or crumbling of the nail.
Psoriatic arthritis affects the joints, most commonly the fingers and toes. It causes a sausage-shaped swelling of fingers and toes. About 10-30% of people who have psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriasis can also cause inflammation of the joints, which is known as psoriatic arthritis. Ten to fifteen % of people with psoriasis have psoriatic arthritis.
Pustular psoriasis appears as raised bumps that are filled with non-infectious pus (pustules). The skin around the pustules is red and tender. It usually affects hands and feet, but can appear anywhere on the body.
Causes of psoriasis
It seems that psoriasis is partly genetic, and partly the result of an assault or upset to the immune system.
- Genetic. Psoriasis may have a genetic component, with a 70% chance of an identical twin developing it if the other twin has it. One in three persons with psoriasis have a family history of the disease.
- Trauma on skin.
- Various toxins.
- A streptococcal infection can cause guttate psoriasis.
Triggers for psoriasis
- Stress, in various forms.
- Prolonged injury to the skin (skin stress).
- A scratch or cut that allows the entry of microorganisms (yeast, bacteria) that would not normally be a problem, but the immune system over-reacts.
- Dry skin.
- Infections throughout the body.
- Changes in seasons / climate.
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
- Various medicines or pharmaceuticals.
- Hair spray, some face creams or hand lotions.
- Urine therapy.
- Treat the skin gently, do not use shower scrubs.
- Moisturise the skin.
- Diet. Fasting or low calorie diets. (1)
- Living food as described in my recipe book, or vegetarian. (1)
- Cod liver / fish oil taken internally. (1)
- Vitamins A, D, E.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, being overweight, stressful situations. (2)
- Get sufficient sleep and exercise. (2)
1. Wolters M.
Diet and psoriasis: experimental data and clinical evidence.
October 2005. Br J Dermatol 153 (4): 706-714.
2. Treloar V. Integrative dermatology for psoriasis: facts and controversies. 2010. Clinics in Dermatology 28 (1): 93-99.