Psoriasis is a long-term condition that is, at best, uncomfortable, and at it worst, can severely affect a sufferer's quality of life. The NHS estimates that it affects around two per cent of people in the UK, with symptoms commonly appearing between the ages of 11 and 45.
Psoriasis is caused by the body's T-cells - which form part of the body's defence system - attacking healthy skin cells. The immune system produces new skin cells and T-cells in order to counteract the attack, but as the production cycle speeds up, the dead skin cells build up on the surface, causing the scaly patches.
Though the exact reason why this occurs is unknown, one in three sufferers have a relative with the condition, and others find their symptoms are triggered by various factors such as alcohol, smoking, stress, and certain medicines.
There are several different types of the condition, the most common of which is plaque psoriasis, accounting for 80 per cent of cases. It is characterised by dry, red lesions on the skin (known as plaques), covered in silver scales. These lesions usually occur on elbows, knees, scalp and lower back, although they can appear anywhere on the body. They can be extremely itchy or sore, and sometimes both, and in severe cases, cracking of the skin may occur, causing bleeding.
Guttate psoriasis is more common among children and teenagers, often developing following a streptococcal throat infection, and causes small drop-shaped sores on the chest, arms, legs or scalp.
Scalp psoriasis, nail psoriasis and inverse psoriasis (which affects areas of the skin where there is a fold or crease, are also common.
In most cases, the symptoms will come and go in cycles, appearing for a few weeks or months, and the severity varies greatly from person to person.
Rarer forms of the condition include pustular psoriasis, which causes pus-filled blisters to appear, and erythrodermic psoriasis, which can cause intense itching or burning across the whole body.
Sadly there is no cure for psoriasis, but a GP or dermatologist can help you to manage the symptoms with various treatments. In mild cases, topical creams or ointments are prescribed to help ease the problem areas, but in more severe instances, phototherapy - where ultraviolet light is used to target the patches - oral or injected medication that reduces the production of skin cells may be necessary.
Because it is a long-term condition, it is important to look after your general health if you suffer from psoriasis. According to the NHS, psoriasis sufferers have a slightly higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet are advise, not least because this can help you to relieve stress.
It is also important to keep in regular contact with your healthcare professional, whether that be your GP or dermatologist, so that you can discuss your treatment and its effectiveness, as well as expressing any psychological issues the condition may be causing.
If you are concerned that you may have psoriasis, ask your GP for a diagnosis. For more information on the condition, visit www.psoriasis-association.org.uk.
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