What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis (sore-eye-a-sis) is a relatively common skin condition where normal skin grows too fast. While there is no one cause, it is thought an abnormal immune response affects skin cells, causing them to speed up their normal growth and pile up instead of falling away on their own.

Common symptoms

Psoriasis symptoms will vary from person to person and by type of psoriasis. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Raised, red, inflamed lesions
  • Silvery scaly plaques
  • Small, red, individual spots (more common in children and young adults)
  • Dry skin that may crack and bleed
  • Itching, burning, or soreness of the skin
  • Pitted nails or separation from the nail bed

Types of psoriasis

There are 5 major types of psoriasis:

(Rollover the images for more information)
  • Plaque

  • Inverse (flexural)

  • Erythrodermic

  • Guttate

  • Pustular

Plaque

What: The most common type of psoriasis with raised, inflamed, red lesions covered by silvery white scales.

Where: Usually the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back.

Inverse (flexural)

What: Bright red lesions that are smooth and shiny.

Where: Armpits, groin, under breasts, other skin folds around the genitals and buttocks.

Erythrodermic

What: May appear quickly, widespread skin surface is red and scaly that sheds in sheets rather than flakes. The skin may feel hot, itchy and painful.

Where: Most of the body surface.

Guttate

What: Small, red, individual spots on the skin (not as thick as plaque lesions) that often starts during teens or early 20s following a bacterial infection.

Where: Torso, arms and legs.

Pustular

What: Begins with reddening of the skin, followed by the formation of white blisters filled with pus (non-infectious) surrounded by red skin. There may be scaling with small brown dots.

Where: Palms of the hands and soles of the feet or occasionally on the body.

When psoriasis affects more than just the skin

Some people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis (around 30 in 100 people), a condition that can also affect joints at the ends of fingers, wrists, knees and ankles. They may become stiff, painful and swollen. Like psoriasis, there are different types of psoriatic arthritis:

  • Symmetric – affects the same joints on both sides of the body, can be disabling, much like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asymmetric – does not occur in the same joints on both sides of the body, fingers and toes may be enlarged and joints may be warm, tender and red
  • Distal interphalangeal predominant – occurs in 5 in 100 people and affects the joint closest to the nail on fingers and toes
  • Spondylitis – swelling of the spinal column, causing stiffness of the spine at the neck, lower back and hip and can also be present in the hands, arms, hips, legs and feet
  • Arthritis mutilans – occurs in fewer than 5 in 100 people and is a severe, deforming arthritis that affects small joints of the hands and feet and may cause neck or lower back pain

Since psoriasis is an immune disease, it may be associated with increased risk of hypertension, obesity, elevated lipids, heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, lymphoma and depression.

Cycles, flare-ups & triggers

Most types of psoriasis go through cycles. You may experience long periods (weeks or even months) of no symptoms, appearing to go into complete remission. But because psoriasis is a chronic (or long-lasting) disease, symptoms can return, or "flare up".

Symptom flare-ups can be distressing, having a significant impact on your daily life. They are caused by external factors from the environment, known as triggers. Triggers affect everyone differently. Common symptom triggers include:

  • Stress

  • Injury to skin#

  • Cold weather

  • Smoking

  • Heavy alcohol
    consumption

  • Certain
    medications*

#Cuts, scrapes, bug bites, severe sunburn *Including lithium, anti-malarials and certain medicines to treat high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor if you're taking any of these medications.

For additional information on psoriasis, please visit www.skincancer.asn.au