If you have the autoimmune disease psoriasis, you understand the discomfort that comes with it. Your skin, thickened due to an excess of skin cells that cause scales and red patches, can become sore and tender to the touch. You might feel an unrelenting burning sensation, or painful itching. Sometimes skin cracks and bleeds.
There is another kind of pain associated with psoriasis: the psychological pain of having a chronic health problem that is visible to other people. Many people are not familiar with psoriasis and believe it is a contagious skin condition. As a result, during a flare up, psoriasis sufferers often find themselves at the receiving end of barely concealed stares, hesitant or withdrawn handshakes, and rude comments disguised as concern. Sometimes, people actively recoil from others afflicted with the condition. Over time, seeing this reaction again and again from strangers and friends alike takes a toll on the sufferer’s mood, self-confidence and even their relationships.
August is Psoriasis Awareness month
Dispelling the myths around psoriasis was one of the driving reasons behind the creation of Psoriasis Awareness Month, back in 1997. For the last 22 years, the National Psoriasis Foundation has fought to raise awareness of the condition and advocate for better care for those who endure it, as well as educate the public about the disease and help dispel common myths that surround it.
The Most Common Autoimmune Disease
Psoriasis a serious condition that many sufferers feel isn’t taken seriously enough. The most common of all autoimmune diseases in the United States, psoriasis affects more than 7.5 million people. With numbers like that, most people probably know someone with at least a mild form of the disease. That said, there are still many misconceptions about the condition. Let’s examine some of the myths, and highlight the facts, about psoriasis.
Myths and Facts About Psoriasis
- Myth: Psoriasis is a contagious disease.
- Fact: It’s impossible to “catch” psoriasis by touching someone who has it. Psoriasis is a chronic condition caused by a person’s overactive immune system. The immune system causes too many skin cells to be produced before the body has time to shed its old skin cells naturally. The new skin cells push the old ones to the surface of the skin, causing patches of raised, red, scaly skin called plaques to form. It’s the body’s immune system process that causes psoriasis, not a contagion.
- Myth: Psoriasis is caused by poor hygiene.
- Fact: As explained above, the condition is caused by a person’s immune system. People with the disease have a genetic tendency to develop it. Psoriasis flare ups can be triggered by a number of things, including stress, injury, hormonal changes and medications, but it can’t be caused—or worsened—by personal hygiene.
- Myth: Psoriasis is just a cosmetic skin condition
- Fact: Although the most common symptom of psoriasis – plaques – do appear on the skin, the broader effects of the condition are much more wide ranging. For example, the pain and discomfort caused by psoriasis plaques can be disabling. It can make it difficult to carry out everyday activities, to go to work, and to sleep well. Living with psoriasis can have a huge emotional impact as well. According to statistics gathered by the National Psoriasis Foundation, during flare ups, 75% of people feel unattractive, 54% feel depressed, and 8% are restricted to their homes. As if that’s not bad enough, there’s more: up to a third of people with psoriasis can also develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes joint pain, stiffness and swelling throughout the body, including fingertips and spine. In both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, disease flares may alternate with periods of remission. In addition, having psoriasis is also linked to a higher risk of developing other health conditions. These conditions include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions linked to the heart and blood vessels
- Type 2 diabetes
- Obesity and metabolic syndrome
- Certain types of cancers
- Myth: Psoriasis can be cured
- Fact: Unfortunately, as a chronic condition, there is no cure for psoriasis at this time and it never completely goes away, although sufferers may have periods of remission in which the symptoms are far lessened. Fortunately, there are many effective treatment options to control psoriasis, including topical treatments that contain salicylic acid, ultraviolet light treatments and steroid injections for tough or particularly resistance plaques. For more severe or persistent cases, there are oral medications such as Acitretin, Cyclosporine and Methotrexate. However, internal medications usually have greater risks and adverse side effects so these are generally used as a last resort.
Healing Starts with Understanding
Psoriasis is a chronic medical condition. Anyone can get psoriasis, regardless of age, but it's most likely to appear first between the ages of 15 and 35 years old. Psoriasis is characterized as mild, moderate, or severe according to the amount of body surface area affected and the severity of redness, thickness, and scaling of the skin. Other aspects matter too. Severity is also measured by the physical and emotional impact of the disease on a person's life. Understanding the truth about psoriasis can help those who suffer from it feel a little less emotional pain, and a lot more acceptance. For more information about psoriasis, visit the National Psoriasis Foundation, the American Academy of Dermatology, or the National Psoriasis Foundation.