Psoriasis affects approximately 1.1 million people in the UK and 125 million worldwide. It can occur at any age, although it is not common in children (0.70%), with the majority of cases appearing before 35 years of age.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes red, itchy scaly patches, most commonly on the knees, elbows, trunk and scalp. People with psoriasis have an increased production of skin cells. Skin cells are normally made and replaced every 3 to 4 weeks, but in psoriasis this process only takes about 3 to 7 days.
The resulting build-up of skin cells is what creates the patches associated with psoriasis. Although the process is not fully understood, it’s thought to be related to an issue with the immune system.
The immune system is your body’s defence against disease and infection, however it attacks healthy skin cells by mistake in people with psoriasis. The condition can run in families, although the exact role genetics plays in causing psoriasis is unclear.
Inflammation caused by psoriasis can impact other organs and tissues in the body. People with psoriasis may experience other health conditions such as psoriatic arthritis which affects one in three people.
Psoriasis signs can vary from person to person. Common symptoms include:
- Red patches of skin covered with thick, silvery scales
- Small scaling spots
- Dry, cracked skin that may bleed or itch
- Itching, burning or soreness
- Thickened, pitted or ridged nails
- Swollen and stiff joints
There are different types of psoriasis. It’s possible to have more than one type of psoriasis at a time and more than one type in a lifetime:
- Chronic plaque psoriasis – the most common type of psoriasis. Plaques of psoriasis are usually present on the knees, elbows, trunk, scalp, behind ears and between the buttocks although other areas can be involved too.
- Pustular psoriasis – causes red and scaly skin with tiny pustules on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
- Guttate psoriasis – often starts in childhood or young adulthood, causes small, red spots, mainly on the torso and limbs. Triggers may be respiratory infections, strep throat, tonsillitis, stress, injury to the skin, and taking antimalarial and beta-blocker medications.
- Inverse psoriasis – makes bright red, shiny lesions that appear in skin folds, such as the armpits, groin, and under the breasts.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis – causes fiery redness of the skin and shedding of scales in sheets. It’s triggered by severe sunburn, infections, certain medications, and stopping some kinds of psoriasis treatment. It needs to be treated immediately because it can lead to severe illness.
There’s no cure for psoriasis, however a range of treatments can improve symptoms and the appearance of skin patches.
In most cases, the first treatment used will be a topical treatment, such as vitamin D analogues or topical corticosteroids. Topical treatments are creams and ointments applied to the skin.
If these are not effective, or your condition is more severe, a treatment called phototherapy may be used. Phototherapy involves exposing your skin to certain types of ultraviolet light.
In severe cases, where the above treatments are ineffective, systemic treatments may be used. These are oral or injected medicines that work throughout the whole body.
When to see a doctor
If you suspect that you may have psoriasis, see your doctor. Also, talk to a GP if your psoriasis:
- Doesn’t improve with treatment
- Causes you discomfort and pain
- Causes you concern about the appearance of your skin
- Becomes severe or widespread
- Leads to joint problems, such as pain, swelling or inability to perform daily tasks
At Private GP Extra, patients are able to access highly experienced female and male GPs across the North West of England, at a time to suit them. Our doctors can also provide an onward referral to a specialist, if required. To book an appointment with one of our GPs, please visit https://www.privategpextra.com/appointments/ or call 0161 428 4464.