"The Heartbreak of Psoriasis" has long been a punchline in the media, used in a quirky 1960's TV commercial, an avant-garde play and even a hit song.
But, having psoriasis, and especially psoriatic arthritis, is serious. Psoriasis is a non-contagious condition related to immune system function and often runs in families. There is no cure, and the itching, cracked, bleeding skin and embarrassing silvery thick scales brings anguish to those who are afflicted. It can range from the occasional small patch with years of remission to a lifelong full-body debilitating condition.
A small percentage of psoriasis patients develop psoriatic arthritis, which painfully swells the joints, deteriorates bones and eventually deforms hands, feet, and the spine to crippling degrees. This spinal condition is called ankylosing spondylitis.
Patients with psoriasis are more likely to have other health issues as well. These include an increased prevalence and risk of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Also, a common ophthalmic disease in these patients is uveitis.
Ointments and creams are a helpful treatment for those with mild to moderate psoriasis, but, there has been little help for patients with 10% - 100% of their skin affected. Now a handful of immunosuppressant and biologic drugs offer miraculous relief.
Unfortunately, these effective drugs do come with side effects including an increased risk of cancer, tuberculosis, kidney problems and susceptibility to life-threatening infections.
Some patients prefer exploring alternative treatments. These range from doctor-approved treatments such as phototherapy with UV lights, pine tar derived formulas and weight loss, to more questionable 'cures' such as swimming in the Dead Sea, smearing yourself with vegetable shortening or megadosing on zinc tablets. A popular ancient treatment was a concoction of onions, sea salt, and urine.
Avoiding triggers such as stress, citrus, red wine, processed meats, gluten, dairy, and others may help some. These do not work for everyone, and require self experimentation over months or years to see results.
No matter how mild or severe your psoriasis, there is a large psychological toll. Cyndi Lauper, Kim Kardashian, Art Garfunkel, LeAnn Rimes and other celebrities who speak openly about their battle with psoriasis bring a positive life outlook to sufferers.
Along with continuing medical research, the future holds promise for those with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
- psoriasis severity, psoriasis.com
- Mayo Clinic Staff, Psoriasis diagnosis and treatment, mayoclinic.org
- Psoriasis Hall of Shame, pinch.com