A recent podcast I listened to on Psoriasis inspired me to send this newsletter. If you have a family member or friend with this skin condition, please share this newsletter. I have an Aunt and cousin that have moderate to severe psoriasis. It can be quite painful and uncomfortable.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease (a disease with an unclear cause that is characterized by inflammation caused by dysfunction of the immune system) that causes inflammation in the body. There may be visible signs of inflammation such as raised plaques (plaques may look different for different skin types) and scales on the skin. Roughly 3 percent of the population has psoriasis.
This occurs because the over active immune system speeds up skin cell growth. In healthy skin, skin grows and sloughs off after a month. With psoriasis, skin cells do this in only three or four days. Instead of shedding, the skin cells pile up on the surface of the skin. Some people report that psoriasis plaques itch, burn, and sting. Plaques and scales may appear on any part of the body, although they are commonly found on the elbows, knees, and scalp.
The cause of psoriasis isn’t fully understood. It’s thought to be an immune system problem where infection-fighting cells attack healthy skin cells by mistake. Researchers believe that both genetics and environmental factors play a role. The condition is not contagious.
Many people who are predisposed to psoriasis may be free of symptoms for years until the disease is triggered by some environmental factor. Common psoriasis triggers include:
- Infections, such as strep throat or skin infections
- Weather, especially cold, dry conditions
- Injury to the skin, such as a cut or scrape, a bug bite, or a severe sunburn
- Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Certain medications — including lithium, high blood pressure drugs and antimalarial drugs
- Rapid withdrawal of oral or injected corticosteroids
If you have psoriasis, you’re at greater risk of developing other conditions, including:
- Psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in and around the joints
- Temporary skin color changes (post-inflammatory hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation) where plaques have healed
- Eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis, blepharitis and uveitis
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Other autoimmune diseases, such as celiac disease, sclerosis and the inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s disease
- Mental health conditions, such as low self-esteem and depression
Recent studies have shown people with severe psoriasis have about a 50-60% increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and dying from that heart attack or stroke. If mild psoriasis, that number is somewhere between 10 and 15%. Its a real risk factor.
And consider this. Most psoriasis people see a dermatologist regularly, who aren’t testing their blood pressure, doing an EKG, or testing the blood for glucose and cholesterol. Aside from seeing a dermatologist, those with moderate to severe psoriasis should also see a cardiologist for annual check-ups.
Treatment aims to stop skin cell growth and scale removal. Options include creams and ointments (topical therapy), light therapy (phototherapy), and oral or injected medications. Treatment depends on the severity of the psoriasis and the responsiveness to the treatment. Typically, patients start off with the most mildest treatments and progress as is necessary. In any situation, the goal is to find the most effective way to slow cell turnover with the fewest possible side effects.
There is some evidence that alternative medicinals may ease the symptoms of mild to moderate psoriasis.
- Aloe extract cream. Taken from the leaves of the aloe vera plant, aloe extract cream may reduce scaling, itching and inflammation. You might need to use the cream several times a day for a month or more to see any improvement in your skin.
- Fish oil supplements. Oral fish oil therapy used in combination with UVB therapy might reduce the extent of the rash. Applying fish oil to the affected skin and covering it with a dressing for six hours a day for four weeks might improve scaling.
- Oregon grape. Oregon grape — also known as barberry — is applied to the skin and may reduce the severity of psoriasis.
Symptoms can take a toll both on physical health and mental health. Here are some tips to help:
Keep Skin Moist
Dry skin makes the irritation and itchiness worse. Right after your bath or shower, pat yourself dry – don’t rub – with a towel. Then put a thick cream or lotion on to seal in water. But don’t use too much during hot, sticky summer months. Sweat mixed with thick creams can make your psoriasis worse.
Before you go to bed, wrap your creamed-up skin with a bandage or plastic wrap. In the morning, wash the area gently. Over time, this can help with scaling.
Use Petroleum Jelly for Psoriasis Flares
Though it can feel sticky, petroleum jelly can help manage your psoriasis flare. Petroleum jelly is a type of ointment called an emollient, which helps to moisturize, ease itchy skin, and reduce scaly patches and cracked skin.
It also helps other topical creams work better by staying on your skin. After putting on thick lotions or creams, you can seal in the moisture with petroleum jelly. If you prefer a non-petroleum product, choose a salve that is unscented and has a high percentage of beeswax, candelilla wax or carnuba wax.
Bathe With Care
Baths and showers can dry your skin. To keep that from happening ensure water is not too hot (lukewarm is best). Add non-fragrance salts or oil or finely ground oatmeal to bathwater. Keep showers and baths short.
Stay With the Plan
If your doctor prescribes creams or light therapy, make it part of your daily regimen. It might be challenging but stick with it
Be aware of what may trigger your psoriasis. Once you know your triggers, you can find ways to prevent it.
You can add psoriasis to the long list of health problems this habit makes worse. In one study, people who smoked more than a pack a day were twice as likely to have a serious case as those who smoked half a pack or less. The effects were even stronger in women who already had psoriasis.
Drink Moderately or Not at All
Psoriasis is more common in people who drink heavily. Alcohol may affect men’s psoriasis more than women’s. Women should have no more than one drink a day, and men should stop at two.
Think About Diet Changes
There’s no solid evidence that any one food makes psoriasis better or worse. At the same time, many say sores got better after they cut back on foods like sugar, white flour, or caffeine. It won’t hurt to try, especially if you cut out not-so-healthy foods.
Tend to Your Mental Health
Don’t let your condition affect your self-esteem. Ask for help if you find it’s taking a toll. Talk to a therapist, psychologist or social worker, or join a support group. Time with other people who understand what you’re going through can help.
Psoriasis is more than just a skin condition. It can have serious adverse effects on health and increase comorbidities. Take care, educate someone you know who has psoriasis and encourage them to see a cardiologist as part of their annual visits. I hope you’ll share this article if you know someone who has some form psoriasis.
Keep looking up!
Forever Your Champion,