Questions and Answers

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a long-term condition where the immune system overreacts causing an inflammatory response that causes normal skin cells to grow more rapidly. This results in a thick build-up of skin cells visible as plaque ‘lesions’ on the skin’s surface.

How many people have psoriasis in New Zealand?

Psoriasis is thought to affect about 2% of the population in New Zealand.1

Is psoriasis more prevalent in men or women?

Psoriasis affects men and women almost equally.

At what age do most people get psoriasis?

While psoriasis can develop at any age, most people see the first symptoms between young adulthood and their mid thirties.

Is psoriasis contagious?

No, psoriasis is a disease of the immune system, and is not something you can catch and pass on.

Is psoriasis hereditary?

About 1 out of 3 people with psoriasis report having a relative with the disease.2 Speak with your doctor about your family history.

What causes psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s defense system (the immune system) mistakenly affect healthy skin cells, acting against them as though it is fighting an infection or healing a wound. This causes skin cells to multiply at an abnormally fast rate, forming psoriasis plaques.

When should I go to the doctor?

The earlier you go to the doctor, the sooner you can be diagnosed and can start treating your symptoms. Also, if you are already undergoing treatment for psoriasis, but feel that your symptoms are not being adequately controlled, you should not be afraid to go back and discuss your options. If you don’t speak up, your doctor may assume you’re coping well with your current treatment.

How is psoriasis diagnosed?

There is no single test for psoriasis, so your doctor will make a diagnosis after talking to you about your symptoms and carefully examining your skin. To rule out other potential causes, they may require a small skin sample (biopsy). You may be referred to a dermatologist for a confirmed diagnosis and treatment.

Is there a cure for psoriasis?

While there is currently no cure, there are a variety of treatments that can help to clear psoriasis for periods. Not all treatments will work for everyone, and you may need to try several before you find one that works for you.

How is psoriasis treated?

When considering choice of treatment, your doctor should consider the type, severity and location of your psoriasis, as well as the impact of both the disease and the treatment on your quality of life. Treatment will generally begin with topical therapy (such as ointments and creams) then move to light therapy, which uses ultraviolet (UV) light, and then systemic therapy, which works inside the body.

Is there a minimum size a patch of psoriasis has to be to get treatment?

Psoriasis may affect a small area of your body, or be officially classified as less than severe, but still have a strong negative impact on your quality of life. It is worth talking to your doctor about how psoriasis is affecting your life physically, emotionally, socially and sexually.

Is all psoriasis alike?

No. While plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis, there are other types (guttate, inverse, erythrodermic, pustular, etc.)

Is psoriasis just a skin condition?

No. It's a chronic (long-term) disorder of the immune system that means your own body’s defense system mistakenly affects healthy skin cells. The effects you can see appear on the skin. Up to 3 out of 10 people with psoriasis may develop psoriatic arthritis, which impacts your joints and skin.3

What is a flare-up?

Sometimes the symptoms of psoriasis becomes worse than other times (called a flare-up).

Can my symptoms get worse in the winter?

Yes. Dry air, decreased sunlight exposure, and colder temperatures can contribute to psoriasis flare-ups in the winter.

What are psoriasis triggers?

Triggers can affect everyone differently. They can include (but are not limited to):

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Infections
  • Physical trauma
  • Injury to the skin
  • Certain medications
  • Emotional stress

What is the difference between psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis?

Both are autoimmune diseases, but while psoriasis is associated with skin lesions, psoriatic arthritis is generally associated with painful, swollen and stiff joints, and inflammation of the tendons and spine.

How are psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis related?

Psoriatic arthritis is associated with psoriasis, and around 3 in 10 people with psoriasis may develop psoriatic arthritis.3 Though not all people with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis, those who do tend to develop symptoms approximately 10 years after the onset of their psoriasis.4

Can I get a tattoo if I have psoriasis?

Injury or trauma to the skin can trigger a flare up of psoriasis, and not always immediately. You should speak with your doctor about the risks involved if you are considering a tattoo.

Does the sun affect psoriasis?

Natural sunlight can positively affect psoriasis. Ultraviolet (UV) light is the basis of light therapy, a treatment for psoriasis. However, you should avoid sunburn, which can trigger a flare up. Certain treatments can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to light.

Can people with psoriasis use hair dye or make-up?

Care should be taken to avoid damage or injury to the skin. Certain dyes can be harsh to the scalp and may irritate open lesions. Speak with your doctor if you are unsure, and always carry out a test patch before applying to larger areas of skin. Similarly, try to choose low-irritant make‑up where possible, and carry out a test patch before applying to the face.

Is it ok to have sex if you or your partner has genital psoriasis?

Psoriasis is not contagious and is not sexually transmitted, so it is fine to have sex in that respect. However, lesions in the groin or genital area may be irritated by sex. If this is the case, you can take practical steps like using lubrication or condoms to lessen friction. Don’t feel afraid to talk to your doctor about what you can do. It is also important to remember that psoriasis sufferers often feel self-conscious about their appearance, so in an intimate situation their partner should be as patient and supportive as possible.

  1. Plaque Psoriasis, DermNet www.dermnetnz.org/scaly/plaque-psoriasis, accessed 28/11/2013
  2. National Psoriasis Foundation: Statistics. Available from: www.psoriasis.org/learn_statistics [Accessed on: 20 August 2013].
  3. National Psoriasis Foundation: Psoriatic Arthritis. Available from: www.psoriasis.org/psoriatic-arthritis [Accessed on: 9 July 2013].
  4. National Psoriasis Foundation: an overview of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Available from: www.psoriasis.org/document.doc?id=215 [Accessed on: 20 August 2013].