What is psoriasis??
The symptoms of psoriasis include patches of white scales, thick plaques and red, sore skin. The term comes from the Greek word psora, meaning itch or rash.
It is agreed that psoriasis is a disease of 'skin differentiation', in other words, it is a problem with the way skin forms different layers. It is a problem of skin cells growing way too quickly, in days rather than weeks. The body does not shed the excess skin cells quickly enough, so they pile up on the surface. That is how we get white scales, plaques and lesions.
To recap, psoriasis is rapid skin growth accompanied by inflammation. The skin affected by psoriasis shows a marked thickening of the epidermis, the uppermost layer of skin; this is called hyperkeratinization. The inflammation is caused by white blood cells called T-cells, which react against the skin where the disease is present. The skin begins to divide, reproduce and grow rapidly, sometimes even 5 times faster than the rate of normal skin growth!
Lets get one thing straight about psoriasis!
Psoriasis is not contagious, the lesions and plaques are not infectious. Psoriasis is not a fungul infection like athlete's foot or ringworm. You cannot catch it by accidentally brushing shoulders with someone else or through any skin-to-skin contact for that matter. It is caused by an overactive immune system, and specifically those pesky white blood T-cells mentioned above.
Whether or not someone gets psoriasis is therefore determined by their DNA and the genetic background of the person. Anyone can develop psoriasis. It does not discriminate against gender, ethnicity or age, absolutely anyone can get psoriasis.
How common is psoriasis?
Psoriasis occurs in around 2% to 5% of the population worldwide. In the USA, around 5 to 7 million adults have some psoriasis on their skin, and 200,000 more are diagnosed every year. The rate of incidence also varies by ethnic group, with Caucasians being more likely to develop psoriasis than Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and Africans.
These are not low numbers. The amount of people who have psoriasis in America is larger than the population of Los Angeles! However, people with psoriasis often feel socially isolated, like they are the only people in the world suffering from the condition. The social stigma and isolation of having psoriasis causes most people to hide it from the world, under layers and layers of clothes. Hopefully this will change once more people understand the condition.
Is there a cure?
Unfortunately, right now there is no permanent cure for psoriasis. However, innovative research is always bringing new treatments to the table, just ask your dermatologist! Some of them include topical steroids, and topical and systemic immunosuppressants, which have risks associated with their use. Alternative treatments include dietary supplements and diet itself, as well as a bit of regular meditation or massage. Managing stress can have a real noticeable impact on many autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis!