Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease that involves skin changes. It can also affect the joints.

Recognizing psoriasis and getting an early diagnosis can help a person access effective treatment, manage symptoms, and possibly reduce the frequency and severity of flares.

Psoriasis results from a problem with the immune system. It leads to an overgrowth of skin cells, among other physical changes.

As the skin cells grow too fast, they accumulate on the surface, forming lesions or plaques of thickened, scaly skin that can be painful or itchy.

Depending on the type of psoriasis, skin changes often affect the:

  • elbows
  • knees
  • hands
  • feet
  • face
  • scalp
  • genitals
  • other areas where the skin folds

However, psoriasis can affect any area of the skin. These symptoms tend to come and go. When symptoms get worse for a period, doctors refer to this as a flare.

What does psoriasis look like on black skin? Find out here.

Other symptoms of psoriasis

Psoriasis does not only affect the skin. It is a multisystem condition that can have other effects.

About 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, which involves inflammation, pain, and swelling in the joints. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause fatigue. Without treatment, it can lead to permanent joint damage.

A person with psoriasis is more likely to experience other inflammatory conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Current guidelines recommend regular screening for these issues.

The exact cause of the condition is unclear, but it appears to involve both genetic and environmental factors. Even if a person inherits these genetic factors, they may never develop psoriasis, unless they encounter a trigger.

Triggers may include certain infectious diseases, such as strep throat. The issues below can both trigger the initial appearance of psoriasis and cause existing symptoms to flare:

  • stress
  • injury to the skin
  • the use of certain medications
  • skin infection
  • smoking
  • alcohol consumption
  • cold weather

Psoriasis is not contagious — one person cannot pass it one to another.

A range of treatments can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of flares.

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Topical creams can help manage mild symptoms.

The best course of treatment depends on the type of psoriasis and the severity of symptoms. Topical treatments are often enough to manage mild symptoms.

For moderate to severe symptoms, current guidelines recommend a relatively new type of drug, called a biologic.

Biologics target specific components of the immune system and can help reduce the frequency of flares and the severity of psoriasis symptoms. They are for long-term use. These drugs are proving to be effective, but they may not suit everyone, as they can increase the risk of infections.

Other treatments — such as steroids — are for short-term use. They can treat symptoms as they arise.

A doctor will discuss the treatment options and help determine the best choices.

The range of psoriasis treatments includes:

  • Topicals: These include ointments, creams, moisturizers, and emollients that can contain corticosteroids and other effective ingredients. Some are available over the counter.
  • Moisturizers and emollients: Ask a pharmacist about options. Thicker products that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free are usually best.
  • Phototherapy: Regular exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light or controlled sun exposure may help. Laser therapy is another option.
  • Systemic drugs: A person can take these orally or via injection. They include steroids, methotrexate, cyclosporine, and retinoids, such as acitretin.
  • Biologics: A doctor may prescribe these, depending on the type of psoriasis and the severity of symptoms.
  • Lifestyle changes: Avoiding known triggers and promptly treating triggers such as strep throat can reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
  • Complementary and alternative remedies: A 2018 review found that Indigo naturalis, curcumin, fish oil, dietary changes, meditation, and acupuncture may reduce symptoms.

New discoveries are leading to new treatment options. Anyone who already has a treatment plan may wish to speak to their doctor about the latest options.

Ask a pharmacist for advice when choosing an over-the-counter topical treatment for psoriasis. Thicker products that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free are usually best.

How can a gluten-free diet help some people with psoriasis? Click here to find out more.

Getting a psoriasis diagnosis is the first step toward effective treatment. It is also important to seek medical attention when symptoms change.

See a doctor if:

  • There are new symptoms or existing symptoms worsen.
  • Seemingly unrelated symptoms occur, especially a fever, weakness, chills, or intense pain.
  • There are signs of infection, such as oozing pus.
  • Red lines spread from the lesions, as this can indicate a rapidly spreading infection.
  • There are signs of erythrodermic or guttate psoriasis.
  • Skin changes are widespread.
  • Psoriasis treatment is not working or is causing serious side effects.

Also, consult a doctor about any changes in the pattern of psoriasis symptoms. For example, if a flare usually lasts 1 week, see a doctor if symptoms persist beyond 2 weeks.