Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that affects about 7.5 million people in the U.S. The condition is characterized by “plaques,” patches of raised, thick, scaly skin that may appear red or silvery. These plaques form when skin cells form and migrate to the skin’s surface at much faster than normal rate. As the cells are produced in the lower layers of the skin, they migrate to the upper layers in a process that normally takes about a month. In people with psoriasis, the growth and migration cycle is sped up, occurring within a period of just a few days. That means new cells reach the skin surface before the old cells have a chance to slough off, creating plaques that represent a “back up” of new and old cells.
Although the specific underlying cause of psoriasis is not known, researchers believe the immune system plays an important role, triggering cell production at an abnormally fast rate.
No, psoriasis cannot be passed from one person to another.
In addition to red, scaly skin plaques, the most common signs and symptoms of psoriasis include:
In most cases, psoriasis can be diagnosed with a physical exam and a review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms. In a very few cases, a small sample of skin cells may be taken for examination under a microscope. People with a family history of the disease have a greater chance of developing it themselves, and stress, chronic infections, smoking, and obesity also increase the risk for psoriasis.
Psoriasis cannot be cured, but there are treatments designed to relieve symptoms and slow the skin cell growth that causes plaque formation. Psoriasis treatment options include:
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