Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune disease that occurs when skin cells quickly rise from their origin below the surface of the skin and pile up on the surface before they have a chance to mature. This happens because the immune system sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle of the skin cells. Normally this turnover takes about a month, but in psoriasis it may occur in only a few days.
Psoriasis is a skin disorder driven by the immune system, especially involving a type of white blood cell called a T cell. Normally, T cells help protect the body against infection and disease. In the case of psoriasis, T cells are put into action by mistake and become so active that they trigger other immune responses, which lead to inflammation and to rapid turnover of skin cells.
People with psoriasis may notice that there are times when their skin worsens, called flares, then improves. Conditions that may cause flares are called “triggers” and include infections, stress, and changes in climate that dry the skin. Also, certain medicines, including beta-blockers, which are prescribed for high blood pressure, and lithium may trigger an outbreak or worsen the disease.
Psoriasis can be managed by topical treatment with vitamin D, corticosteroids or combination products. There is now a wide variety of formulations available, from creams and ointments to gels, to meet a person’s needs. If symptoms are severe or cover a lot of the body, phototherapy with ultraviolet radiation or systemic therapy (tablets, injections, infusions) may be considered. Talk to your skin specialist to learn more about treatment options.