Psoriasis Frequently Asked Questions

Psoriasis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Q: How can I know if I have psoriasis?

A. If you have a skin rash that won?t go away, contact your health care provider. He or she can look at the rash to see if it is psoriasis or another skin condition. Rarely, a small sample of skin is taken to view under a microscope.

Q: What causes psoriasis?

A. The cause of psoriasis is unknown. The condition tends to run in families, so it may be passed on to children by parents.

Psoriasis causes new skin cells to develop too quickly. Normally, skin cells are replaced every 28 to 30 days. In psoriasis, new cells grow and move to the surface of the skin every three to four days. The build up of old cells being replaced by new cells creates the hallmark silvery scales of psoriasis.

Q: What causes psoriasis outbreaks?

A. No one knows what causes psoriasis outbreaks. How serious and how often outbreaks happen varies with each person. Outbreaks may be triggered by:

  • Skin injury (Cuts, scrapes or surgery that requires cutting of the skin, for example.)
  • Emotional stress
  • Streptococcal and other infections
  • Cold, cloudy weather
  • Certain prescription medicines

Q: Can psoriasis be cured?

A. Psoriasis cannot be cured, but treatment greatly reduces symptoms, even in severe cases.

Q: How is psoriasis treated?

A. There are many treatments for psoriasis. Some treatments slow the production of new skin cells while others relieve itching and dry skin. Inflammation in the skin is an important part of psoriasis and many treatments reduce inflammation. Your health care provider will select a treatment plan depending on the seriousness of the rash, where it is on your body, your age, health and other factors.

Q: Where can I learn more?

A. National Psoriasis Foundation

Treatment for severe cases:

  • Light therapy (ultraviolet light at specific wavelengths decreases inflammation in the skin and helps to slow the production of skin cells)
  • PUVA (treatment that combines a medicine called "psoralen" with exposure to a special form of ultraviolet light)
  • Methotrexate (a medicine taken by the mouth; Methotrexate can cause liver disease, so its use is limited to severe cases and is carefully watched with blood tests and sometimes liver biopsies.)
  • Retinoids (a special form of Vitamin A-related drugs; Retinoids can cause serious side effects, including birth defects. Brand names of retinoids are Soriatane and Tazorac.) Vitamin A in foods and vitamin pills has no effect on psoriasis.
  • Cyclosporine (a very effective capsule reserved for severe psoriasis because it can cause high blood pressure and damage to kidneys).
  • Newer drugs for treating psoriasis include Amevive, Raptiva, and Enbrel. All three are given by injection and belong to a group of drugs known as biologic therapies. They work by blocking the body's immune system from "kick-starting" an autoimmune disease such as psoriasis.

Tips for improving psoriasis in addition to prescription medicines:

  • Use moisturizer.
  • Avoid using harsh soaps.
  • Apply oil or moisturizer after bathing.
  • Expose psoriasis to moderate sunlight.
  • Use a tar shampoo every other night.