Clearing the Confusion about Psoriasis
As published by Zalea.com, by Chelsea Campbell
What do Kim Kardashian and an estimated 7.5 million Americans have in common? Perhaps not much, but what they may have in common is a genetic skin disease called psoriasis. The Kardashians lead a charmed life for sure, but beneath the glitz and glamour, they really are people just like us, whose genes are susceptible to a skin disorder that causes painful red lesions. Once confused as leprosy, it’s no wonder psoriasis is often regarded with embarrassment, as it is an often misunderstood skin condition. August is Psoriasis Awareness Month, and at Zalea we are shedding light on a disorder that is surprisingly prevalent – whether or not you are a Kardashian.
What It Is?
Psoriasis is a genetic autoimmune skin disorder in which skin cells multiply 10 times their normal rate, causing cells to build up too quickly and die, resulting in raised, red and white scales visible on the surface. These patches of red, scaly skin cells are typically itchy, dry, and painful, and they often crack and bleed. Sometimes stiffness of the joints may accompany the skin symptoms. Most commonly, lesions arise on the knees, elbows, and scalp, though they can appear anywhere on the body. Fortunately, it is not contagious in any way. Rather, it is genetic. If, like Kris Jenner and Kim, you happen to have the right mix of genes, your condition could be lying dormant until it is triggered by any number of factors that cause it to “wake up” and become active in your body, resulting in a lifelong struggle to suppress.
Although the cause of psoriasis is unknown, what is most unusual about this particular condition is the wide variety of factors that contribute to flare ups. At various points throughout the years, it was thought that psoriasis was a contagious disease caused by poor hygiene, and that it could be transmitted through physical contact like kissing, sex, by swimming in the same water, or just by brushing up against someone who had it. Doctors now understand that it is a genetic disease, not an infection, and that it is not caused by poor hygiene or bad habits.
So, what causes these bouts of lesions that pop up and cause so much pain? Often, skin injury or trauma such as cuts, insect bites, infections, sunburns, or even excessive itching can set off cells multiplying rapidly. Internal infections like bronchitis, a cold, the flu, pneumonia, and most commonly, strep throat, can be triggers. Stress is also another sneaky contributor that causes the immune system to react negatively and produce a flare up, while alcohol, smoking, hormonal changes, weight gain, and certain medications can all contribute as well. While some like to blame various foods for psoriasis, there is little evidence that this is true.
Though psoriasis is not contagious, sufferers are often embarrassed of the unsightly red patches and fear that others may assume it is a transmittable rash, not to mention the uncomfortable itch and the stiff joints that are associated. For relief of the external symptoms, doctors will usually recommend topical treatments to put directly on the skin. These include cortisone creams to reduce inflammation, ointments that contain coal tar or anthralin to slow the rapid skin cell growth, salicylic or lactic acid creams to help shed the excess skin buildup, and prescription retinoids. For severe psoriasis, systemic treatments include oral or injectable medications containing methotrexate or cyclosporine that work with the immune system, though these are serious medications that are reserved for more severe cases. Phototherapy using ultraviolet light has been a mainstay of treatment and has many positive effects, though excessive doses of light could actually burn the skin cause a flare up. UV light should only be performed by a professionals who really understand the benefits and dangers. More natural remedies like a vacation at a Dead Sea destination, might provide a nice respite, and at least in the UK was paid for by their National Health Service. Although there is no cure or prevention, keeping skin moist and clean and avoiding known triggers is the best way to limit flare ups.
Because treatments are varied and widely available, it is relatively easy for sufferers with psoriasis to find relief from the pain and discomfort of their symptoms. The newer ‘biologics’ have transformed the treatment of psoriasis, are quite effective and generally provide prolonged benefits in a good percentage of patients, though are very expensive and require prior authorization from your insurance company. Of course, cases vary from person to person, and because it is still a disease that is not completely understood, there may be periods of trial and error until patients find something that works for them specifically. If you are one of the millions affected by this condition, take comfort in the fact that you are certainly not alone, and that the disorder is on its way out of the shadow of shame as high-profile celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner speak openly about their struggle with psoriasis.