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What is Psoriasis?

Anyone who watches television commercials is familiar with the phrase "the heartbreak of psoriasis". But what is psoriasis? Psoriasis is a common, chronic skin disease that varies significantly in symptoms and severity. More than 4.5 million adult Americans are affected. While the precise cause is unknown, most researchers agree that it is related to the immune system. It also has a strong genetic component: 33 percent of people with psoriasis have a family history of the disease. Psoriasis can develop at any age, although it usually shows up in 15- to 35-year-olds. About 10 percent to 15 percent of those with psoriasis get it before age 10, and occasionally it appears in infancy. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 28 years. Psoriasis can be worsened by stress, certain medicines, infections, or injury to the skin.

Despite looking like a rash, psoriasis it is not contagious. It is most commonly found on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet or lower back. Scalp psoriasis occurs in at least half of all people with psoriasis. It can range from very mild with fine scaling to very severe with thick, crusted plaques. Psoriasis generally appears as patches of raised red skin covered by a flaky white buildup. In certain kinds of psoriasis, it also has a pimple-ish (pustular psoriasis) or burned (erythrodermic) appearance. Affected areas of skin may have intense itching and burning.

The good news is that many treatments are available to help manage its symptoms. The bad news is that between 10 percent and 30 percent of people with psoriasis may also develop a related form of arthritis.

The "heartbreak of psoriasis" is measured in terms of its physical and emotional impact. Physically, if less then 2 percent of the body is involved, the case is considered mild (The palm of one hand equals 1 percent.) Between 3 and 10 percent is considered moderate, and more than 10 percent is severe. Psoriasis also is measured by its impact on quality of life. When psoriasis involves the hands and feet, it may also be considered severe because it may limit a person's ability to function. Or, if a person's psychological or emotional well-being is considerably affected, the psoriasis may also be considered severe.

Created: 2/9/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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