Psoriasis is a skin condition that develops when the skin-cell replacement cycle is “sped up” to many times more than the normal rate. In healthy skin, new skin cells develop in the deeper layers of skin and migrate to the surface, replacing unhealthy or dead skin cells, so skin stays soft, supple and protected. Usually, this renewal process takes about a month to complete. In people with psoriasis, the skin cell cycle occurs in just a few days, causing skin cells to “back up” at the skin surface. These extra cells clump together to form thick, scaly patches called plaques. Although the specific cause of psoriasis is not known, scientists believe the condition occurs as a result of a faulty immune system response that affects the speed of skin cell growth and regeneration.
Psoriasis can cause an array of symptoms, which can vary from one person to another, and can include:
Psoriasis can occur bilaterally, affecting the same areas on both sides of the body (such as both knees or both elbows), or it may occur on only one side of the body. Sun exposure or exposure to irritants can cause symptoms to become worse. Psoriasis is not a contagious disease, which means it cannot be passed from one person to another, even if the plaques are touched.
Psoriasis cannot be cured but it can be managed. Having regular dermatology visits is important to ensure therapy remains on target and effective. Treatment typically begins with a thorough evaluation to confirm the diagnosis, and sometimes very small skin samples are taken for further evaluation to rule out other possible causes of symptoms. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment can include topical creams and ointments, oral medications, and light therapy to control symptoms.
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