Have you noticed thick, scaly skin or red, itchy, dry spots on your body? If you've been affected by this annoying symptom, you may have psoriasis, a common skin condition. Luckily, your doctor will have no problem diagnosing the condition, and there are a variety of ways to control it.

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an issue for approximately 7.5 million people in the U.S. Psoriasis causes the skin cells on your body to build up on the surface of your skin, usually on the hands, feet, knees, elbows, or scalp. Only 20 percent of people suffering from psoriasis will see symptoms that cover more than five percent of their body surface.

Here are some terms that will help you understand psoriasis:

  • Chronic: Psoriasis is a chronic condition, meaning that once you develop psoriasis, you will need to treat it throughout your lifetime.
  • Flares: The times when psoriasis symptoms are very visible.
  • Autoimmune disease: A medical problem caused by the immune system attacking healthy cells.

Stages and Types of Psoriasis

There are several types of psoriasis that include the following:

  • Plaque Psoriasis: You’ll see this kind of psoriasis most of the time, usually on the knees, elbows, scalp, and lower back. It appears as a buildup of skin that is often red, painful, itchy, and covered with white dead skin cells.
  • Guttate Psoriasis: These small sores affect about 10 percent of psoriasis sufferers and are the second most common form of the disease. These sores can start as early as childhood and are triggered by the strep infection.
  • Inverse Psoriasis: If you notice red sores behind your knee, under your arm or in your groin area, you might be diagnosed with inverse psoriasis.
  • Pustular Psoriasis: This form of psoriasis looks like white blisters, but it isn’t contagious because it isn’t an infection.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis: 22 percent of people with psoriasis develop this condition and it causes joint pain and swelling.

Symptoms and Causes

Symptoms of psoriasis vary from person to person, but can include the following:

  • Red patches of skin covered with white scales or small sores
  • Skin that is dry and cracked and may bleed or that itches, burns, or feels sore
  • Nails that are thick and have ridges or pitting
  • Joints that are swollen and stiff

We don’t have an answer as to why psoriasis occurs. It's an autoimmune disease that appears for various reasons, including:

  • Infections
  • Skin injury like a cut or severe sunburn
  • Stress
  • Cold weather
  • Smoking
  • Severe alcohol abuse
  • Some medications prescribed for high blood pressure or bipolar disorder

Prevention and Risks

Researchers have yet to discover a way to prevent psoriasis. It’s possible to treat symptoms, but no prevention is currently available. Risk factors include:

  • Your family history: If you have family members who either have or have had psoriasis, your risk of developing the disease increases. 
  • Suffering from infections: Viral and bacterial infections are known to trigger symptoms of psoriasis. For example, people with HIV are much more likely to develop the condition.
  • Stress levels: Stress weakens your immune system. High levels of stress in your life could trigger psoriasis symptoms.
  • Being overweight: Since psoriasis can develop in skin creases and folds, your likelihood of developing the disease increases if you’re obese.
  • Smoking: We think that smoking may encourage the development of psoriasis and it may increase the severity of your symptoms.

Diagnosis and Tests

When your doctor reviews your medical history and examines your skin in places where there are existing problems, the diagnosis is usually simple. In some cases, your doctor may order a skin biopsy. The biopsy can identify the particular type of psoriasis you’re suffering from and rule out other conditions.

Treatment, Procedures, and Medication

If you think you have psoriasis, start by contacting your primary care doctor. You may be referred to a dermatologist if your symptoms are mostly skin related. If your symptoms point to psoriatic arthritis, you will want to see a rheumatologist who specializes in treating your condition.

Since there is no known cure for psoriasis, treatment focuses on controlling your symptoms. Namely, your doctor will concentrate on slowing or stopping the skin cells’ growth. Treatment will also aim to soothe your skin where itchy, and scaly skin appears on your body.

Your doctor may prescribe creams that can reduce or remove mild to moderate symptoms of psoriasis. Your doctor may recommend medication that can reduce inflammation and itching. Some of these medications have significant side effects; it’s best to start with the mildest approach.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

As with most conditions, a healthy lifestyle will help your body fight psoriasis symptoms. Here are some things you can do:

  • Take a bath every day. A lukewarm bath will help to remove scaly skin and soothe rough patches. Increase effectiveness by adding bath oil or bath salts to the water and soak in the tub.
  • Moisturize. Using a thick moisturizer will help prevent symptoms from breaking out. If you have very dry skin, use oils as they will work even better. Apply moisturizer after bathing and throughout the day whenever possible.
  • Avoid the sun. Check with your doctor about how sunlight may help your condition. Too much sun exposure is always something to avoid.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of some medications or treatments.

There aren’t any specific diets for people with psoriasis. However, eating healthily to help your body fight off the symptoms only makes sense. Also, since obesity can contribute to the severity of psoriasis, reaching and maintain a healthy weight is always recommended.

Conclusion

You may find treating psoriasis frustrating because you don’t like the look of the sore patches on your skin. Keep in mind that the condition isn’t contagious, and there are various ways to control your symptoms!