Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious skin disease that affects over 2.5% of Australians.
Around 30% of people who suffer from psoriasis have a family history of the condition.
It most commonly begins in young adults but is not confined to a specific population group and can affect males and females of all races and ages.
Psoriasis occurs when our immune system sends the wrong message to our skin cells, causing accelerated growth. This results in new skin cells developing over a period of days instead of weeks and an overabundance of skin cells. This stockpile of skin cells builds up, forming the red, thick scaly patches characteristic of psoriasis.
We are yet to fully understand the complicated mix of internal (genetics) and external (environmental) factors that result in psoriasis. We do know that our genes can make us predisposed to psoriasis and many sufferers have a family history.
However, not all people with a predisposition to psoriasis will develop the condition. This indicates that psoriasis is the result of a mix of factors, rather than one single gene.
Environmental and lifestyle risk factors that might trigger the development of psoriasis in someone with a genetic predisposition include:
- Injury to the skin
- Certain medications
You cannot contract psoriasis from touching, sharing a pool, sexual activity or sharing a drink bottle.
Types of Psoriasis
The exact nature and location of the psoriasis lesions will vary according to the particular type of psoriasis:
- Plaque psoriasis
- Guttate psoriasis
- Inverse psoriasis
- Pustular psoriasis
- Erythrodermic psoriasis
Plaque psoriasis (psoriasis vulgaris)
The most common form of psoriasis is characterised by raised, red, dry skin lesions with silvery scales. These lesions can be few or many, located anywhere on the body and may be painful and/or itchy.
These comprise many small, tear-drop shaped sores covered by a thin scale. These lesions can be found on the trunk, limbs and scalp.
Inverse psoriasis (flexural psoriasis or intertriginous psoriasis)
This involves areas where there is a fold of skin, or skin on skin contact, such as the armpit, groin, genitals, under the breast or between the buttocks. This form of psoriasis is characterised by patches of smooth, red, inflamed skin.
This affects the skin on the soles of the feet, fingertips and palms. It starts off red and tender before developing into pus filled blisters. These blisters can clear up within days but might reappear every two or three weeks.
Erythrodermic psoriasis (exfoliative psoriasis)
This is a red, peeling rash that may involve the entire body, accompanied by intense burning. People may be very unwell.
The severity of psoriasis may fluctuate over time, between individual cases and depending on the type of psoriasis.
While there is currently no cure for psoriasis, most patients can successfully manage and control the majority of symptoms with appropriate treatment.
However, a small percentage of sufferers will endure severe psoriasis that resists treatment and severely affects their life. Some psoriasis sufferers will also develop inflamed joints (psoriatic arthritis).
There are a range of treatments available and each will affect individual cases differently. These treatments can include:
- prescription creams or ointments
- Ultraviolet light treatment
- prescription oral medications
A dermatologist will help you find a course of treatment that works for you.
The visibility of psoriasis means that sufferers are also at risk of developing psychological issues such as poor body image, low self-esteem, depression and suicidal thoughts.
This can lead to relationship problems, absences from work, avoiding certain types of clothing, activities and locations (such as the beach). Addressing psychological issues is an important part of management.
See also Learn About Psoriasis.