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Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that occurs when the skin cells are replaced too rapidly. Normally, it takes about a month for new skin cells to migrate from the lower layers of skin to the skin’s surface, and as new cells reach the surface, old, worn-out cells are shed, creating a continual replacement process that supports healthy skin. In psoriasis, this replacement cycle process is “sped up,” with new skin cells migrating to the surface in just a few days instead of a month. As the skin cells near the surface, they create a “backlog” of unshed surface cells, forming large patches of thick, scaly skin called plaques. Although the specific underlying cause of psoriasis isn’t known, research indicates the condition is related to an immune disorder that interferes with the normal skin replenishment cycle. Psoriasis plaques can be unsightly and embarrassing, but the disease is not contagious, which means it cannot be spread from one person to another.
Psoriasis is usually identifiable by the recurrent plaques of scaly, itchy skin that develop. These plaques can appear red or pink with a silvery or whitish “sheen.” Plaques tend to occur most commonly around the elbows and knees, but they can occur elsewhere as well. Other symptoms include:
Some people develop psoriatic arthritis, a painful condition that causes aching in the joints and joint stiffness. The best way to know for sure if you have psoriasis is to have an evaluation by a skilled dermatologist who can diagnose the condition with a physical exam, sometimes accompanied by a biopsy to rule out other conditions.
To date, there is no cure for psoriasis, but there are several treatments that can help reduce flare-ups and help keep symptoms under control. Prescription-strength topical medications and oral medications are effective in helping many patients manage their symptoms, and some patients benefit from phototherapy that uses precise measured doses of light to reduce scaly, itchy plaques.