11605 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Psoriasis

    Definition

    Psoriasis is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease. Knees, elbows, scalp, trunk, and nails are the most commonly affected areas. There are several types of psoriasis:
    • Plaque—inflamed patches of skin topped with silvery, white scales (most common type)
    • Guttate—small dot-like lesions
    • Pustular—weeping lesions and intense scaling
    • Inverse—in body folds (armpits, groin, under breasts)
    • Erythrodermic—intense sloughing and inflammation of the skin
    Psoriasis
    Psoriasis
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Causes

    The cause of psoriasis is unclear. Signals from a defect in the immune system may result in an overgrowth of skin cells. Because the cells grow faster than they can be shed, they pile up on the skin's surface. The excess skin cells are thought to cause the silvery white scales that are characteristic of plaque-type psoriasis.

    Risk Factors

    A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for this condition include:
    • Family history of psoriasis
    • Cold climates
    • Suppression of the immune system, including AIDS
    • Certain bacterial infections
    • Certain medications, such as beta blockers and lithium
    • Smoking

    Symptoms

    The red, thickened, and rough patches of psoriasis may occur anywhere, but are commonly found on the scalp, elbows, knees, palms, and soles. Other symptoms include:
    • Silvery white scales
    • Pitted or dented fingernails and/or toenails
    • Red lesion in the folds of the buttock
    • Joint pain suggesting arthritis
    The skin may also be sore, burning, or itchy depending on the type of psoriasis.

    Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done including and examination of your skin and nails will be examined. There are no specific blood tests or diagnostic procedures for psoriasis. Sometimes a skin biopsy will be done to confirm the diagnosis.

    Treatment

    Treatment is based on:
    • The severity of the disease
    • The extent and location of the areas involved
    • Responsiveness to the treatment

    Topical Treatment

    Many patients respond very well to treatments applied directly to the skin. Topical treatments include:
    • Corticosteroid creams and ointments (most common treatment)
    • Synthetic forms of vitamin D and retinoids (calcipotriene ointment)
    • Retinoids (tazarotene gel 0.05 and 0.1%)
    • Coal tar preparations (Denorex, Pentrax, Tegrin, Zetar)
    • Bath solutions and moisturizers
    • Tacrolimus and pimecrolimus (especially for inverse psoriasis)

    Photo (Light) Therapy

    If psoriasis covers more than 30% of the body, it is difficult to treat with topical medications alone. Daily, short, nonburning exposure to sunlight clears or improves psoriasis in many people. Sunlight is often included among initial treatments. A more controlled form of artificial light treatment (UVB phototherapy) is often used in cases that are more widespread. Alternatively, psoriasis can be treated with ultraviolet A (UVA light) and psoralen. Psoralen is an oral or topical medication that makes the body more sensitive to light. This treatment is known as PUVA.
    Phototherapy can be very effective in controlling psoriasis but it requires frequent treatments. It may cause side effects such as nausea, headache, and fatigue, burning, and itching. Both UVB and PUVA may increase the person's risk for squamous cell and, possibly, melanoma skin cancers. It is unclear whether UVB increases the risk of skin cancer.

    Systemic Treatment

    For more severe types of psoriasis, doctors may prescribe a number of other powerful medications, which can be effective, but are associated with side effects that are more serious. These include:
    • Methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall)—a type of systemic medicine that affects the whole immune system; should not be taken by pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant, or by their male partners
    • Cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral)—another type of systemic medicine that suppresses the immune system to slow the turnover of skin cells; should not be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women
    • Hydroxyurea (Hydrea)—less toxic than methotrexate or cyclosporine, but may be less effective
    • Systemic retinoids—Compounds with vitamin A-like properties taken internally may be prescribed in severe cases. Retinoids can cause birth defects, and women must diligently protect themselves from pregnancy for several years after completing treatment. Systemic retinoids are often combined with phototherapy for increased effectiveness and for their property of being protective against squamous skin cancer.
    Newer medicines include biologic agents, which affect a part of the body's immune response. For example, ustekinumab (Stelara) is a recently approved drug that targets certain cells in the immune system that cause inflammation.

    Prevention

    Avoiding physical trauma to the skin, infections, and cold, dry temperatures may help reduce flare-ups in people with the condition. Your doctor may advise you to avoid certain foods if they appear to make your psoriasis worse.

    RESOURCES

    National Institutes of Health http://www.nih.gov/

    National Psoriasis Foundation http://www.psoriasis.org/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Dermatology Association http://www.dermatology.ca/

    Psoriasis Society of Canada http://www.psoriasissociety.org/

    References

    de Prost Y. New topical immunological treatments for psoriasis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol . 2006;20(suppl 2):80-82.

    Kasper DL, Braunwald E, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson JL. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine . 16th ed. McGraw-Hill; 2000.

    Lebwohl M. Psoriasis. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/education/students/psoriasis.htm . Accessed July 15, 2009.

    Moderate to severe psoriasis: biologic drugs. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/sublearn03%5Fsevere%5Fbiologics . Accessed October 2, 2009.

    Moderate to severe psoriasis: systemic medications—methotrexate. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/sublearn03%5Fsevere%5Fmetho . Accessed October 2, 2009.

    Psoriasis vulgaris. DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated August 27, 2009. Accessed September 18, 2009.

    Tierney LM, McPhee SJ, Papadakis MA. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment . 44th ed. McGraw Hill/Appleton & Lange; 2005.

    Varani J, Bhagavathula N, Ellis CN, Pershadsingh HA. Thiazolidinediones: potential as therapeutics for psoriasis and perhaps other hyperproliferative skin disease. Expert Opin Investig Drugs . 2006;15:1453-1468.

    10/2/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : FDA approves new drug to treat psoriasis. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm183851.htm . Published September 25, 2009. Accessed October 2, 2009.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.