Psoriasis affects as many as 7.5 million people in the United States. And although psoriasis can occur at any age, most people have their first outbreak between the ages of 15 and 35, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Many people are affected by psoriasis, but they don’t know what causes it or how it can be treated. Let’s talk about what psoriasis is, what it looks like, where it’s commonly found on the body, and what treatment options are available.

What is Psoriasis?

In the simplest of terms, psoriasis is a disease caused by an overreaction by the immune system, which has been tricked into thinking an infection exists in the skin.

When the immune system tries to treat this phantom infection by accelerating the growth cycle of skin cells, itchy plaques appear on the skin.

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The appearance of these plaques can vary depending on where psoriasis occurs on the body – typically the elbows, knees, the back of the scalp, and sometimes on the hands and feet. Psoriasis could be red. It could be scaly. It could have postules.

Although these plaques don’t exactly look good, psoriasis is not contagious and poses no threat to others.

How Can Psoriasis Be Treated?

There is no known cure for psoriasis, but the disease can often be managed. When psoriasis is limited, we try to control it with topical therapies, such as corticosteroids and hydrocortisone-type products. If these treatments don’t work, we prescribe an oral medicine.

Depending on where psoriasis is located, it can be embarrassing or cause problems in everyday life. For example, a waiter who has psoriasis on his hands can feel uncomfortable and make customers feel uneasy.

In cases like this, or when 3-5 percent of the body’s surface area is covered by psoriasis, we might treat the condition more aggressively with oral or injectable medicines. New oral medicines are available that can be effective in combating the inflammation that causes psoriasis. These medicines are very safe.

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Injectable biologics products, called biologics, are specifically directed at the immune system. Any product designed to suppress the immune system typically has very specific risks involved, but those risks are uncommon in people with psoriasis. People with psoriasis are generally younger and healthier than those with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, who tend to be elderly and have more health problems. Biologics are extremely effective, but they can also be very expensive.

The appearance of psoriasis can vary and no blood test is capable of confirming whether psoriasis does or does not exist. Only a thorough physical examination by a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions will tell you if you have psoriasis.

As a result, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a board certified dermatologist to ensure an accurate diagnosis and the best psoriasis treatment options.