What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a non-contagious chronic skin condition which occurs as a result of abnormalities in the body?s immune system. In individuals with psoriasis, the immune system erroneously sends out signals that cause an increased production in the growth of skin cells. The condition appears as red, scaly patches, often with a whitish or slivery covering of dead skin cells. The condition can affect only a small area of the body, or can spread to cover the entire body in some individuals.

What Causes Psoriasis?

Psoriasis outbreaks can be precipitated by a number of factors, including stress, injury to the skin, and streptococcal infection. The condition is caused by a breakdown in the body?s immune system, and researchers believe stress triggers the immune response that causes the abnormal growth of skin cells that is the hallmark of psoriasis. Certain medications, including drugs to control blood pressure, can also cause a flare-up of psoriasis. Psoriasis also often occurs within families, leading researchers to believe a genetic component is involved.

What treatments are available for psoriasis?

Many types of treatments are available to control psoriasis symptoms and flare-ups, including topical agents, oral medications, and light therapy. Most treatments are directed at slowing the abnormal growth of skin cells that occurs in psoriasis. Topical treatment is usually the first line of treatment, and may include special shampoos, creams, ointments, and lotions, as well as controlled exposure to sunlight. Your physician may recommend beginning treatment with over-the-counter medications before moving to prescription topical agents. Some individuals can benefit from having the area wrapped in a dressing after the topical treatment is applied, in what is known as ?occlusion therapy.? Some specialists may prescribe a rotting therapy of different topical medications to avoid developing a tolerance to a particular medication.

Phototherapy is another popular treatment option which may be used alone or in combination with other medications. Light therapy may involve either UVB or UVA radiation, and is carefully applied by a physicians trained in effective application of light. Most treatments are performed 2 to 3 times per week. In the case of UVA therapy, your doctor will probably prescribe use of a drug called psoralen, which helps sensitize your skin to the effects of the light.

Oral medications are usually reserved for individuals with moderate to severe cases of psoriasis, and may also be used for men and women for whom topical treatments and light therapy have failed to achieve satisfactory results. Popular oral medications used to treat psoriasis include methotrexate, retinoids, and cyclosporine. These drugs are carefully monitored by your physician, and may not be used in certain individuals with specific health problems. Most oral medications are used in conjunction with topical products, and may also be used with light therapy. In some rare cases, injections of medication may be used in small areas which are resistant to other forms of treatment.

In certain cases, the physician may decide to use biologics, a class of medicines which mimic the proteins made naturally by the body. These drugs block the immune system response that causes the overproduction of skin cells. Generally, biologics are thought to be less effective overall than other treatments, and are used in patients who cannot tolerate other forms of therapy.
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