Dr. Sara Ferguson, a dermatologist at Penn State Health, outlined in a recent communication various myths about psoriasis, ranging from it being contagious to patients having no treatment options beyond topical creams.
Psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disease that speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells, causes patches of thick red skin and silvery scales. Patches are typically found on the elbows, knees, scalp, lower back, face, palms, and soles of feet, but can affect other places, such as fingernails, toenails, and mouth. The most common type of psoriasis is called plaque psoriasis.
According do Dr. Ferguson, there are several persistent myths about psoriasis:
- The disease is often considered a rare disease, but in fact affects 2 to 5 percent of the U.S. population, meaning that 16 million Americans have the condition. Moreover, many patients do not seek help from a dermatologist because they consider their symptoms mild.
- Psoriasis is often thought of as a skin disease, but it is much more than that. Psoriasis is a multi-systemic, inflammatory disease of the immune system, and can also affect the joints. People with psoriasis are at increased risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, diabetes, psoriatic arthritis, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease. In this context, Dr. Ferguson noted that patients should consult with their primary care physician about these and other potential risk factors.
- Psoriasis is not a contagious disease. Since psoriasis is not an infection, a person with the disease cannot “give” it to someone else, and no one can contract it by touching someone with the disease. Psoriasis tends to run in families, because some hereditary genes can lead to the disease, when the person who carries these genes is exposed to external trigger factors, such as skin injury or an infection.
- There are many treatment options available for these patients, in addition to topical creams. These include topical skin treatments with corticosteroids, vitamin D, anthralin, coal tar, and salicylic acid when disease symptoms are mild or moderate. Phototherapy is another treatment option, a method that involves exposing the skin regularly to ultraviolet light under medical supervision. Traditional systemic treatments, including methotrexate, acitretin and cyclosporine, are also an option. Biologic drug agents such as TNF-alpha blockers and IL-17 inhibitors can also be considered. These agents are protein-based drugs that target specific parts of the immune system.
Efforts to address psoriasis have typically focused on studying and treating individual patients, and on clinical and biomedical research. Although more studies are necessary, some evidence indicates some newer treatments might decrease the risk of other diseases associated with psoriasis.
According to Dr. Ferguson, if someone has psoriasis, there are important steps to follow to lessen symptoms and to safeguard overall health.
It is important to seek treatment and discuss potential treatment options with a dermatologist. Both the American Academy of Dermatology and the National Psoriasis Foundation, on their websites, offer directories of doctors experienced in treating psoriasis.
It is also important for patients to seek help from primary care physicians, and to be regularly examined for possible conditions linked to psoriasis.
Stress can cause psoriasis symptoms to flare, so relaxation techniques, from walking to yoga, are critical.
Eating a healthy diet, taking part in regular physical exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, and not smoking are the basics of a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Ferguson said.