Reality television star Kim Kardashian was recently diagnosed with psoriasis, an immune system disorder that affects the skin. While it’s doubtful that she’ll become a spokesperson for psoriasis awareness, her diagnosis brings attention to a common disease that has its roots in ancient history.
As many as 7.5 Americans have psoriasis, making it the most prevalent autoimmune disorder in the country. It affects men and women equally, and most people are diagnosed with it between the ages of 15 and 25. Psoriasis occurs when incorrect signals from the immune system increase skin cell growth, causing red, scaly patches (referred to as “plaques”) to develop, most often on the elbows or knees, but also possibly on the scalp, palms, soles of the feet and genitals. The plaque form of psoriasis is by far the most common, affecting 80 to 90% of people with the disease. Less common forms are pustular psoriasis, nail psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, which affects the joints and connective tissues in the body.
Psoriasis is often hereditary, with as much as one-third of people with the disease reporting a family history of it. It’s a chronic condition, and flare-ups are often aggravated by stress, weather and changes in seasons. While not considered a life-threatening disorder, the plaques psoriasis causes can be itchy and painful, as well as unpleasant in appearance. Many people with psoriasis suffer from depression, due to both physical discomfort and poor self-image. Anxiety over appearance may trigger further psoriasis flare-ups, causing a cyclical effect.
Treatment for psoriasis depends on the severity of the condition. Mild to moderate psoriasis can be treated with topical creams containing corticosteroids or synthetic vitamin D. Moisturizers and over the counter creams containing salicylic acid can reduce scaling, itching and dry skin. More serious cases may require oral or injectable immunosuppressant medication, which can have a number of side effects. Some advances have also been made using phototherapy, in which affected skin is exposed to UV rays for limited periods of time. Both real and artificial sunlight using UV lamps have been proven effective, though too much sunlight may actually worsen psoriasis symptoms, so this treatment should not be attempted without a doctor’s approval.
If you show signs of psoriasis, it’s important to try not to treat it on your own without seeing your doctor first. Undoubtedly in light of Kim Kardashian’s diagnosis, many “celebrity health experts” will offer plenty of misleading, if not downright inaccurate information about it, so make sure you see a dermatologist with experience in treating psoriasis. While it can be an uncomfortable, embarrassing condition, with proper care and treatment it doesn’t have to rule your life.
Medex Supply Blogger