Much more than a transient skin irritation, psoriasis is an incurable autoimmune disorder associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, cancer and metabolic syndrome.
If you're lucky, you'll only be bothered by occasional flare-ups, characterized by a few patches of flaky, red, dry skin. Alternatively, you may suffer from thick, silvery-white scales with large, itchy, red plaques that may crack, bleed or burn, or feel tender or sore.
What's behind it?
White blood cells called T lymphocytes mistakenly target healthy skin cells instead of infections. In doing so, they speed up the skin's renewal cycle, forcing new cells to grow before dead skin can be sloughed away and resulting in unsightly skin eruptions.
The specific cause of this condition is still unknown, but genetics (there's a family history of psoriasis in 40 per cent of cases) and a compromised immune system seem to play a part.
Are there any triggers I should know about?
"Psoriasis is very individual, but there is usually a bit of an ebb and flow," says Dr. Jerry Tan, adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario's department of medicine. In fact, psoriasis tends to peak at two points in your lifetime -- in your midteens and later in life -- but outbreaks can occur at any age.
Strep throat is the most common trigger for children, with flare-ups also more likely following earaches, bronchitis, tonsillitis or respiratory infections.
For adults, physical stressors including smoking, alcohol, obesity, trauma to the skin and certain drugs such as beta blockers (used to treat high blood pressure) may instigate or exacerbate psoriasis. Cold weather, sunburns and excessive sweating can also trigger outbreaks in people of any age.
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What can I do about it?
According to Dr. Tan, mild outbreaks can be soothed by taking daily baths in warm water (hot water may irritate skin) with either colloidal oatmeal or Epsom salts to temporarily relieve itchiness and inflammation.
Opt for gentle, oil-rich cleansers and moisturizers, and be sure to pat your skin dry instead of towelling off vigorously.
You'll likely be referred to a dermatologist who will consider three types of treatments that can be used alone or in combination to slow down the accelerated skin-cell production, reduce inflammation and clear your skin of scales.
These approaches include topical treatments (which can also be prescribed by your family physician), phototherapy (exposing the skin to UVA or UVB light) and -- for severe cases -- oral or injected drugs.
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|This story was originally titled "Just Been Diagnosed: Psoriasis" in the March 2012 issue. |
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