Why Psoriasis Awareness Month Matters
September 3, 2014
•Health Awareness Days, General
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As the most common autoimmune disease, psoriasis affects over 7.5 million Americans, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). Contrary to what many believe, psoriasis is not contagious; a variety of factors trigger the onset of this genetic disease.
Psoriasis is a chronic disease often associated with heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and depression. For some individuals, day-to-day living is hard because of pain, anxiety and embarrassment. For these reasons, the NPF sponsors every August as Psoriasis Awareness Month, "raising awareness, educating the public and dispelling myths about the disease."
Types of Psoriasis
Psoriasis causes a person's immune system to speed up skin cell growth, resulting in a variety of rashes and lesions on different parts of the body. It is an inherited and incurable condition. Up to 30 percent of people who have the disease also have a family member with the disease, according to the NPF. Certain "triggers" lead to the onset of one of five different types of psoriasis. Among these triggers, injury to the skin (including tattoos), stress, smoking and infections are the most common.
- Plaque Psoriasis: The most common form of the disease, it appears as raised red patches usually found on the outside of the knees and elbows, on the scalp and on the lower back, but it can appear anywhere on the body. Dead skin cells give the patches a white or silver appearance. Often itchy and painful, it sometimes causes the skin to crack and bleed.
- Guttate Psoriasis: This form of the disease develops in approximately 10 percent of those diagnosed, making it the second most common type of psoriasis. It most commonly occurs in childhood, and its onset can be sudden. Among triggers, streptococcal and upper respiratory infections, beta blocking and antimalarial medications are the most frequent. Small red lesions sometimes numbering in the hundreds appear primarily on the limbs and torso.
- Inverse Psoriasis: Typically occurring among people who already have some other form of the disease, inverse psoriasis manifests as shiny red lesions in skin folds. More common among overweight adults, affected areas include the groin, armpits and under the breasts.
- Pustular Psoriasis: Pregnancies, emotional stress, excessive exposure to UV light and systemic steroids are among the contributors to pustular psoriasis. The lesions begin as areas of red skin, followed by noninfectious, pus-filled blisters and scaling of the skin that can form anywhere on the body. A life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention, von Zumbusch is an accelerated type of pustular psoriasis that can occur quickly, sometimes even within 24 hours.
- Erythrodermic Psoriasis: Also life-threatening but rare, this form of psoriasis covers most of the body with a bright red rash and exfoliating skin. It sometimes occurs in conjunction with von Zumbusch pustular psoriasis.
In addition to the different types of psoriasis, about 30 percent of those with the disease develop a complication called psoriatic arthritis. Onset of the disease can be slow or rapid, and symptoms range from mild to severe. Some of these symptoms include:
- Tendons or joints that swell or become stiff, tender or painful
- Swelling of the toes and fingers
- A reduction in range of motion
- Redness and pain in one or both eyes
- Nails that change in appearance
Most commonly found in the finger joints closest to the nails, it also appears in other joints and even in the lower back. According to the NPF, 85 percent of psoriatic arthritis occurs in people who already have psoriasis. The number of joints affected and at what severity guide how dermatologists classify an individual's level of disease, from mild and moderate to severe.
Treatments for psoriasis vary by the type of disease involved, its severity and an individual's response. In most cases, psoriasis can be controlled and its symptoms managed. The following treatments are effective alone or combined:
- Topical treatments available both over-the-counter and by prescription reduce inflammation, slow the growth of skin cells, soothe and moisturize skin and relieve itching. The first choice in treating mild outbreaks, they are used in conjunction with most other treatment methods.
- Phototherapy is the repeated, medically-supervised exposure of skin to ultraviolet light. Two spectra of ultraviolet, UVA and UVB, are employed. UVA is the type of light found in most tanning salons, and because of certain limitations, it is less effective and thus less used than UVB. An excimer laser focuses a high-intensity UVB beam of light to treat specific areas of psoriasis plaques.
- Administered orally,intravenously or by injection, biologics and systemic medications treat moderate to severe forms of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. They are used most often and effectively in conjunction with other treatment methods. Depending on the individual and the medications used, side effects can be significant.
- Complementary and alternative treatments include diet, herbal remedies, acupuncture, exercise, yoga, mind-body therapies and culture-specific treatments. These therapies are especially beneficial in helping treat pain and maintaining emotional stability.
Finding and Giving Help
A number of organizations as well as caregivers and health care professionals exist to educate and assist people suffering from psoriasis. Among these are the American Academy of Dermatologists, the National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus Psoriasis, the National Library of Medicine's Psoriasis Interactive Tutorial and the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Alliance. Individuals who would like to share their stories have an outlet through the NPF website.
Psoriasis Awareness Month is the opportune time to raise public awareness about this often misunderstood disease. Those who want to help can find a number of opportunities through the NPF and other sources, many at the community level. For those who want to help people on a professional level, there are plenty of allied health and nursing programs. Specialties in the fields of psoriasis treatment and research prepare professionals at the graduate and post-graduate level in such fields as medicine, nursing and social work.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons