How Long Does Psoriasis Last and How Is It Treated?

Psoriasis has no cure but its symptoms can be treated

Man's red and irritated feet
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Psoriasis is a chronic immune-system related skin disorder affecting 7.5 million Americans. It affects about 1 in every 50 men. It can affect the skin anywhere on the body, but it appears most commonly on the elbows, palms, soles of the feet, lower back and scalp. Soft tissue in the mouth and of the genitalia may also be affected, as can the fingernails and toenails.

Psoriasis is not infectious, despite its sometimes distressing appearance, and has nothing to do with personal hygiene.

There are several types of psoriasis, but the most common is known as plaque psoriasis. Skin cells are normally replaced over 28 days, but in people with psoriasis, the process is more rapid and takes just four days. These new skin cells form thick, scaly, raised red patches called plaques. If the scale is removed from psoriasis, the area bleeds in a characteristic pin-point manner, known as the Auspitz sign.

Psoriasis usually appears on the knees, elbows or the scalp. It is itchy and uncomfortable, and many sufferers say it leads to a lot of embarrassment. So-called "geographic plaques" can occur when smaller patches eventually merge into one or more large patches on the body.

How Long Does Psoriasis Last?

Psoriasis itself lasts a lifetime and there is no known cure, but the symptoms of the disease can come and go with varying intervals of time. In some, the symptoms may disappear for a month or more, and even for years.

These extended periods are known as remission.

Psoriasis may appear in cycles, appearing and then clearing up, only to return again. This cyclical nature can be caused by different triggers, or even seasons (some experience a relief of symptoms during the summer, and a worsening of them during the winter, for example).

What Causes Psoriasis?

The precise cause is not fully understood. Psoriasis may start at any age, though its incidence seems to peak between 20 and 30, then again between 50 and 60. There is also some evidence that it occurs more often in cold climates, and especially in Caucasians and African Americans.

Psoriasis often appears to be triggered by an infection (especially strep infections), skin injury and certain medicines. Psoriasis occurring in an area of trauma is known as the Koebner phenomenon. Other triggers may also include stressful life events such as relationship problems, bereavement or even performance stress such as before an important exam.

Severity of Psoriasis

The severity of psoriasis varies, in some cases mild enough to escape notice, and in others becoming debilitating.

  • Mild psoriasis generally affects less than 2 percent of the body.
  • Moderate psoriasis can affect from 3 to 10 percent of the body.
  • Severe psoriasis affects more than 10 percent of the body.

Mental Health Effects of Psoriasis

Severe skin conditions like psoriasis can have a very negative effect on emotional health.

The sufferer may believe the condition appears unattractive to others and withdraw from social contact as a result. Some may turn to alcohol and smoking as a way of coping with psoriasis. Unfortunately, both of these activities—especially smoking—can worsen the condition.

Treatment and Management of Psoriasis

There are several treatments available for psoriasis. More common treatments include:

Here are some tips that may help you deal with psoriasis:

  • Wear light cotton clothes and avoid synthetic fabrics.
  • Keep the skin well-moisturized to prevent itching and irritation. A variety of ointments, gels, creams, soap substitutes and special shampoos are available to try.
  • Your doctor is likely to prescribe topical forms of corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation and itching. Be sure to use them as directed.
  • Some people appear to benefit from ultraviolet light treatment.
  • Reduce your stress level.

Finally, there are numerous new injectable medications known as biologics that dramatically improve psoriasis in most people. As they require only intermittent use, biologic medications are typically more convenient than topical treatments for psoriasis, but their potential side effects are more serious.

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