Top of the page
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes skin cells to grow too quickly. The result is thick white or red patches of skin. The patches (called plaques) can range in size from small to large. They usually occur on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet, or lower back.
Experts believe that the immune system overreacts, causing inflammation and flaking of skin. In some cases, psoriasis runs in families. People with psoriasis often notice times when their skin gets worse. Things that can cause these flare-ups include a cold and dry climate, infections, stress, dry skin, and certain medicines.
There are several types of psoriasis. Symptoms for each may vary. But major symptoms are itchy and tender skin and raised, bright red patches of skin (called plaques), topped with loose, silvery scales. In some people, psoriasis causes joints to become swollen, tender, and painful. Symptoms may disappear, even without treatment, and then return.
Your doctor can often recognize psoriasis by looking at your skin, scalp, and nails. Special tests usually aren't needed.
Most cases of psoriasis are mild. Treatment starts with skin care. This includes keeping your skin moist with creams and lotions. These are often used with other treatments including shampoos, ultraviolet light, and medicines your doctor prescribes. You may need to try different combinations of treatments to find what works for you.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
The exact cause of psoriasis isn't known. But experts believe that the immune system overreacts, causing inflammation and flaking of skin.
Many scientists believe that psoriasis can be inherited (runs in families). Having certain gene changes can make it more likely for a person to get psoriasis. But it isn't clear that your genes alone determine whether you get psoriasis.
People with psoriasis often notice times when their skin gets worse. Things that can cause these flare-ups include a cold and dry climate, infections, stress, dry skin, and taking certain medicines.
Psoriasis isn't contagious. It can't be spread by touch from person to person.
There are several types of psoriasis. Symptoms for each type may vary, but the major symptoms are:
Other symptoms may include:
Symptoms may disappear (go into remission), even without treatment, and then return (flare up).
Psoriasis is usually a long-term problem. Symptoms tend to come and go in a cycle. There are flares, when symptoms get worse, and then remission, when symptoms improve and go away for awhile. In other cases, psoriasis may persist for long periods of time without getting better or worse.
A few flare-ups of psoriasis may go away without treatment. But it's usually best to treat psoriasis so that it doesn't get worse. If it becomes severe and widespread, it may be much harder to treat.
Call your doctor if you have:
If you are being treated for psoriasis, call your doctor if you:
Your doctor can often recognize psoriasis by looking at your skin, scalp, and nails.
Tests usually aren't needed. But one or more of the following tests may be done.
Most cases of psoriasis are mild and can be treated with:
Depending on what type of psoriasis you have, treatment may also include:
In some cases, psoriasis can be hard to treat. You may need to try different combinations of treatments to find what works for you. Treatment for psoriasis may go on for a lifetime.
Most of the time psoriasis can be treated at home. These tips may improve your symptoms or help reduce the number of psoriasis flare-ups:
You can do things at home to manage your psoriasis. By learning what triggers to avoid, you can improve your symptoms or help reduce the number of psoriasis flare-ups.
Try to avoid these triggers:
Many types of medicines can help control psoriasis. They include:
You may be able to control mild psoriasis with an over-the-counter medicine. These include corticosteroid creams.
For moderate to severe psoriasis, you may need to use a topical medicine prescribed by your doctor. For example, you may need a stronger corticosteroid or a medicine related to vitamin D.
Other topical medicines include anthralin and tars.
Medicines you take by mouth may be used to treat moderate to severe psoriasis. Examples are retinoids and methotrexate.
Sometimes this type of medicine is given as shots instead of pills.
These medicines block the harmful response of the body's immune system that causes the symptoms of psoriasis. These may be used to treat severe psoriasis. Or they may be used to treat psoriasis that hasn't improved after other treatments. Examples are infliximab (Remicade) and ustekinumab (Stelara).
Current as of: March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineElizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal MedicineAmy McMichael MD - Dermatology
Current as of: March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine & Amy McMichael MD - Dermatology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.