What are the symptoms?
Psoriasis symptoms differ from person to person and depend on the type of psoriasis you have. Areas of psoriasis can be as small as a few flakes on your scalp or elbow, or cover the majority of your body.
The most common symptoms of plaque psoriasis include:
raised, inflamed patches of skin that appear red on light skin and brown or purple on dark skin
whitish-silver scales or plaques on the red patches or gray scales on purple and brown patches
dry skin that may crack and bleed
soreness around patches
itching and burning sensations around patches
thick, pitted nails
painful, swollen joints
Not every person will experience all these symptoms. Some people will experience entirely different symptoms if they have a less common type of psoriasis.
Most people with psoriasis go through “cycles” of symptoms. The condition may cause severe symptoms for a few days or weeks, and then the symptoms may clear up and be almost unnoticeable. Then, in a few weeks or if made worse by a common psoriasis trigger, the condition may flare up again. Sometimes, symptoms of psoriasis disappear completely.
When you have no active signs of the condition, you may be in “remission.” That does not mean psoriasis will not come back, but for this period of time, you’re symptom-free.
Is psoriasis contagious?
Psoriasis is not contagious. You cannot pass the skin condition from one person to another. Touching a psoriatic lesion on another person will not cause you to develop the condition.
It’s important to be educated on the condition, as many people think psoriasis is contagious.
What causes psoriasis?
Doctors are unclear as to what causes psoriasis. However, thanks to decades of research, they have a general idea of two key factors:
the immune system
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions are the result of your body attacking itself. In the case of psoriasis, white blood cells known as T cells mistakenly attack your skin cells.
Generally, in the body, white blood cells are deployed to attack and destroy invading bacteria and mount a defense against infections. This mistaken autoimmune attack causes the skin cell production process to go into overdrive. The sped-up skin cell production causes new skin cells to develop too quickly. They are pushed to the skin’s surface, where they pile up.
This results in the plaques that are most commonly associated with psoriasis. The attacks on the skin cells also cause red, inflamed areas of skin to develop.
Some people inherit genes that make them more likely to develop psoriasis. If you have an immediate family member with the skin condition, you are at an increased risk of developing psoriasis, according to research published in 2019.
What are the different types of psoriasis?
There are five types of psoriasis:
Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that about 80 to 90 percent of people with the condition have plaque psoriasis. It causes red, inflamed patches on light skin tones and purple or grayish color or darker brown patches on skin of color — making it harder to diagnose in people of color.
These patches are often covered with whitish-silver scales or plaques and are often more severe on skin of colorTrusted Source. These plaques are commonly found on the elbows, knees, and scalp.
Guttate psoriasis commonly occurs in childhood. This type of psoriasis causes small pink or violet spots. The most common sites for guttate psoriasis include your torso, arms, and legs. These spots are rarely thick or raised like plaque psoriasis.
Pustular psoriasis is more common in adults. It causes white, pus-filled blisters and broad areas of red or violet —depending on skin tone — inflamed skin. It can appear as a more intense violet color on darker skin tones. Pustular psoriasis is typically localized to smaller areas of your body, such as the hands or feet, but it can be widespread.
Inverse psoriasis causes bright areas of red, shiny, inflamed skin. Patches of inverse psoriasis develop under your armpits or breasts, in your groin, or around skinfolds in your genitals.
Erythrodermic psoriasis is a severe and very rare type of psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
This form often covers large sections of your body at once. The skin almost appears sunburned. Scales that develop often slough off in large sections or sheets. It’s not uncommon for you to run a fever or become very ill with this form of psoriasis.
This type can be life threatening, so it’s important that you make an appointment with a healthcare professional immediately.
Two tests or examinations may be necessary to diagnose psoriasis.
Most doctors can make a diagnosis with a simple physical exam. Symptoms of psoriasis are typically evident and easy to distinguish from other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.
During this exam, be sure to show your doctor all areas of concern. In addition, let your doctor know if any family members have the condition.
If your symptoms are unclear, or if your doctor wants to confirm their suspected diagnosis, they may take a small sample of your skin. This is known as a biopsy.
Biopsies can be done in your doctor’s office on the day of your appointment. Your doctor will likely inject a local numbing medication to make the biopsy less painful.
They will then send the skin biopsy to a lab for analysis, where it’ll be examined under a microscope. The examination can diagnose the type of psoriasis you have. It can also rule out other possible disorders or infections.
When the results return, your doctor may request an appointment to discuss the findings and treatment options with you.
External “triggers” may start a new bout of psoriasis. These triggers are not the same for everyone. They may also change over time for you.
The most common triggers for psoriasis include:
Unusually high stress may trigger a flare-up. If you learn to reduce and manage your stress, you can reduce and possibly prevent flare-ups.
Alcohol use disorder can trigger psoriasis flare-ups. If you drink excessively, psoriasis outbreaks may be more frequent. Considering reducing alcohol consumption or quitting is helpful for more than just your skin. Your doctor can help you create a plan to address your alcohol use concerns if you need assistance.
An accident, cut, or scrape may trigger a flare-up. Injections, vaccines, and sunburns can also trigger a new outbreak.