According to the National Psoriasis Association, psoriasis is the most prevalent autoimmune disease in the United States affecting as many as 7.5 million Americans. Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes skin cells to grow too quickly, resulting in thick, white, silvery, or red patches of skin.

Normally skin cells grow gradually and flake off about every 4 weeks. New skin cells grow to replace the outer layers of the skin as they shed. In the case of psoriasis, new skin cells move rapidly to the surface of the skin in days rather than weeks. They build up and form thick patches called plaques.

Patches vary in size and most often appear on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet, or lower back. Psoriasis is most common in adults, but children and teens can get it too.

The good news is psoriasis is not contagious.

A dermatologist may be best suited to provide a proper diagnosis, as psoriasis can be confused with other skin conditions such as eczema.

What to Avoid if You Have Psoriasis

  • Skin injury. An injury to the skin can cause psoriasis patches to form anywhere on the body, including the site of the injury. This includes injuries to your nails or nearby skin while trimming your nails.
  • Stress and anxiety. Stress can cause psoriasis to appear suddenly (flare) or can make symptoms worse.
  • Infection. Infections such as strep throat can cause psoriasis to appear suddenly, especially in children.
  • Certain medicines. Some medicines, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), betablockers, and lithium, have been found to make psoriasis symptoms worse. Talk with your doctor. You may be able to take a different medicine.
  • Overexposure to sunlight. Short periods of sun exposure reduce psoriasis in most people, but too much sun can damage the skin and cause skin cancer. Sunburns can trigger flares of psoriasis.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol use can cause symptoms to flare up.
  • Smoking. Smoking can make psoriasis worse. If you smoke, try to quit.

Treating Psoriasis

The treatment of psoriasis usually depends on the extent of disease or its severity and location. Treatments range from creams and ointments applied to the affected areas to ultraviolet light therapy to treatment with medication (such as methotrexate).

Psoriasis may be associated with serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and depression. Treating psoriasis in women may require extra considerations; if you are planning to become pregnant or are nursing, discuss your treatment options with your doctor or dermatologist.

Smoking can trigger psoriasis

Smoking can make psoriasis worse. If you smoke, try to quit.

According to recent studies, scientists believe that at least 10 percent of the general population inherits one or more of the genes that create a predisposition to psoriasis. However, only 2 to 3 percent of the population develops the disease.

Researchers believe that for a person to develop psoriasis, the individual must have a combination of the genes that cause psoriasis and be exposed to specific external factors known as “triggers.”

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Psoriasis Foundation, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Adventist HealthCare. For medical advice, consult your physician.