Psoriasis is a disease which affects the skin and joints. It commonly causes red scaly patches to appear on the skin. The scaly patches caused by psoriasis, called psoriatic plaques, are areas of inflammation and excessive skin production. Skin rapidly accumulates at these sites and takes a silvery-white appearance. Plaques frequently occur on the skin of the elbows and knees, but can affect any area including the scalp and genitals. Psoriasis is hypothesized to be immune-mediated and is not contagious.
The disorder is a chronic recurring condition which varies in severity from minor localised patches to complete body coverage. Fingernails and toenails are frequently affected (psoriatic nail dystrophy) – and can be seen as an isolated finding. Psoriasis can also cause inflammation of the joints, which is known as psoriatic arthritis. Ten to fifteen percent of people with psoriasis have psoriatic arthritis.
The cause of psoriasis is not known, but it is believed to have a genetic component. Several factors are thought to aggravate psoriasis. These include stress, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. Individuals with psoriasis may suffer from depression and loss of self-esteem. As such, quality of life is an important factor in evaluating the severity of the disease. There are many treatments available but because of its chronic recurrent nature psoriasis is a challenge to treat.
There can be substantial variation between individuals in the effectiveness of specific psoriasis treatment. Because of this, dermatologists often use a trial-and-error approach to finding the most appropriate treatment for their patient. The decision to employ a particular treatment is based on the type of psoriasis, its location, extent and severity. The patient’s age, gender, quality of life, comorbidities, and attitude toward risks associated with the treatment are also taken into consideration.
Medications with the least potential for adverse reactions are preferentially employed. If the treatment goal is not achieved then therapies with greater potential toxicity may be used. Medications with significant toxicity are reserved for severe unresponsive psoriasis. This is called the psoriasis treatment ladder. As a first step, medicated ointments or creams, called topical treatments, are applied to the skin. If topical treatment fails to achieve the desired goal then the next step would be to expose the skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This type of treatment is called phototherapy. The third step involves the use of medications which are taken internally by pill or injection. This approach is called systemic treatment.
Over time, psoriasis can become resistant to a specific therapy. Treatments may be periodically changed to prevent resistance developing (tachyphylaxis) and to reduce the chance of adverse reactions occurring. This is called treatment rotation.