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Ack! Why Do My Elbows Look Like Fish Scales?

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August is Psoriasis Action Month, and it is important to be in the know about this disease that affects people of all ages. Often thought of as a “scaly skin” condition, psoriasis is actually an immune system-related disease that goes beyond skin deep. Those who have psoriasis know that there are many ups and downs in battling it.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic immune system disease that primarily affects the skin. An immune reaction within the body causes a rapid buildup of skin cells, too rapid for the body to handle. This buildup on the skin’s surface causes scale-like patches to develop as well as inflammation, pain, and redness. These patches can be found, generally, on the hands, feet, neck, scalp, and face. Severe physical discomfort is all too common a result. The most common adult psoriasis type is referred to as “plaque psoriasis,” with “guttate psoriasis” being more common in childhood.

In healthy skin, cells will be replaced about every month. Psoriasis causes them to be replaced every few days. It is commonly associated with other diseases, including type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, psoriatic arthritis, anxiety, and depression. The exact cause remains unknown, but genetics and the immune system seem to be the main culprits.

Different triggers for different people

Although it is not contagious, people who suffer from this disease will, many times, also suffer from depression or a lack of self-esteem because of their appearance. Most sufferers will have different triggers depending on their body, but common ones tend to be stress, alcohol, injury or infection, and some medications, such as lithium and those for malaria and high blood pressure. It’s important to understand triggers and adhere to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, including diet changes, in order to treat this condition.

How is it treated?

The most common treatments for psoriasis include topical creams and ointments, which are helpful in mild to moderate cases. Oral or injected medications are reserved for those with severe psoriasis or those who have not responded to other treatments. These medications — methotrexate, cyclosporine, biologics, and retinoids — may have severe side effects, so they are generally used only for a short period of time. Light therapy is another possible, less invasive option for the treatment of psoriasis, and people generally respond well to sunlight exposure, which kills the overactive white blood cells.

Psoriasis is a skin condition, yes, but it is tightly interwoven with the immune system as well. It’s also liable to have devastating emotional effects on adults and children who feel self-conscious because of their visible outbreaks. Treatments are expanding, and science is working to understand better the disease and its causes. If you or someone you know suffers from psoriasis, use this month to educate yourself about this condition so that you can be of support to others who experience this difficult disease.

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