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Psoriasis Treatment Options

Psoriasis, a common skin disease, affects more than three percent of America’s population. The condition is not only painful but also embarrassing. While there is no cure, psoriasis treatment can make the condition a little more bearable.Psoriasis involves an accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. It is characterized by dry, pink patches with red borders and silvery-white scales. Some people experience joint pain and swelling along with the skin rash.

What Causes Psoriasis?

Doctors are uncertain why psoriasis develops, but they think it is linked to immune system functioning. For unknown reasons, people with psoriasis have over-active immune systems that cause skin cells to grow rapidly. This results in a high turnover of immature skin cells, and the buildup causes a painful, itchy skin rash.

Psoriasis is a chronic, uncomfortable illness with physical and emotional effects. The elbows, knees, face, scalp, back, hands and feet are areas where psoriasis develops most often. The disease may also affect the nails, mouth and genitals.

In some people, psoriasis causes swollen joints and arthritis pain. Psoriatic arthritis can affect any joint in the body. About one in ten psoriasis sufferers acquire an arthritic condition. Many others develop diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol or heart disease.

Besides physical pain and discomfort, psoriasis can make people self-conscious about their appearance. The socially isolating disease often leads to stress, anxiety and depression. The persistent nature of this condition makes psoriasis treatment a real challenge.

Triggers and Complications

Although doctors are uncertain what causes psoriasis, several factors can trigger a flare-up. Emotional stress, excess weight, sunburn, skin injuries and streptococcal infections are common risk factors for psoriasis. Family history often plays a role in its development. Alcohol, cigarettes and certain drugs are also potential triggers.

People with psoriasis have an increased risk for certain diseases including diabetes or elevated insulin levels, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and some cancers. The debilitating nature of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis makes it difficult for some people to complete their daily tasks. Here are the most common psoriasis treatment options.

Medical Treatments

There is no cure for psoriasis, but the condition can improve considerably with treatment. Psoriasis treatment has two goals: to interrupt the cycle of rapid skin cell production, and to remove the itchy scales and soothe the skin. Treating the disease involves topical creams, oral medications or injections, light therapy, psychological counseling or a combination of treatments.

Prescription topical creams and lotions are often effective for mild or moderate psoriasis. Corticosteroids, retinoids, calcipotriene and salicylic acid are common topical remedies. They are formulated to reduce inflammation, slough away dead skin cells, soothe the skin and slow the rate of cell growth.

For severe cases of psoriasis, topical treatment may be combined with prescription medications and light therapy. Most medications are taken by mouth or through injections. Oral retinoids, methotrexate and cyclosporine are common oral medications for psoriasis. Biologics, which help suppress the immune system, are usually administered by injection or intravenous (IV) infusion.

Light therapy, also called phototherapy, is a procedure that uses natural or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light to treat psoriasis symptoms. Too much sun can make psoriasis worse, however, so natural light therapy requires UV protection to avoid sunburn. Artificial light therapy is administered under a doctor’s supervision.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Mild skin rashes often respond to over-the-counter (OTC) psoriasis remedies. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce inflammation, while petroleum jelly soothes and softens the skin. Coal tar ointments and capsaicin cream are also popular OTC treatments.

Alternative Therapies

Some people seek psoriasis treatment through complementary and alternative (CAM) medicine. Meditation, stress management and mind-body practices are often helpful to treat psoriasis. Fish oil, folic acid, shark cartilage and other nutritional supplements may also provide relief.

Herbs are generally safe to consume and may strengthen the various body systems. Avocado, aloe vera, oregano oil and Oregon grape are common psoriasis remedies. Herbal remedies are generally administered through capsules, extracts, powders, teas and tinctures.

Some holistic practitioners use homeopathic remedies to treat psoriasis. Calendula and sulphur, for example, are two common topical treatments for skin rash and itching. Some people seek chiropractic treatment for psoriatic arthritis, and acupuncture is said to help others.

Sources: Mayo Clinic staff. (February 25, 2011) “Psoriasis.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

UMMC. (2001) “Psoriasis.” University of Maryland Medical Center.

Wein, Harrison, ed. (August 2010) “Itch, Scaly Skin? Living with Psoriasis.” National Institutes of Health.

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