Spotting Psoriasis Symptoms and Triggers

By

Jane Soung

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Psoriasis is a skin condition that can affect everyone differently. Some people’s psoriasis is so mild they don’t even know they have it. Others have a more severe case that affects large areas of their body.

Still, there’s no doubt that psoriasis can greatly impact your everyday life. For people with more serious psoriasis, the appearance and symptoms can cause great anxiety, embarrassment, and even depression. Understanding more about psoriasis and its triggers can be one of the best ways to improve your quality of life.  

Symptoms to Know

People with psoriasis develop patches of thickened, reddish-colored skin with white, flaky scales. These patches aren’t contagious. They can show up almost anywhere on the body. They most frequently appear on the elbows, knees, lower back, and scalp.

Other symptoms of psoriasis include:

  • Dry, cracked, scaly, or flaky skin that may bleed at times

  • Itchy, sore, or burning skin

  • Pitted fingernails or toenails that may loosen, thicken, or crumble

  • In more severe cases, pus-filled blisters on the red skin patches

What causes psoriasis?

Psoriasis usually first appears between ages 15 and 30, but the reason is unclear. It could be triggered by a problem with the immune system, which normally protects your body from infection and disease. With psoriasis, some of your immune system’s T cells, a type of white blood cell, mistakenly attack your skin cells. 

T cells trigger inflammation and swelling and also cause your skin cells to grow faster than normal. Since skin cells grow and rise too quickly, they pile up on the top surface of the skin, causing it to become thicker. This is what causes psoriatic patches.

Triggers and Flare-Ups

Certain things can trigger or cause your psoriasis to flare up, whether it’s for the first time or the tenth time. Most people will have psoriasis for a long time, possibly even on and off throughout their life. While flare-ups can be upsetting, with careful attention to triggers, many people with psoriasis are able to enjoy symptom-free periods with clear skin.

Infections like strep throat or the common cold are a trigger. Damage to the skin, such as sunburn, cuts, bruises, bug bites, or skin conditions, can lead to psoriatic patches 10 to 14 days later.

Other triggers include:

  • Stress

  • Cold weather

  • Smoking

  • Some medications, such as certain blood pressure medications known as beta blockers and malaria drugs

Anticipating and avoiding triggers for your psoriasis is just part of a plan for successful management of this chronic skin condition. People can also gain control through a variety of treatment options and stress management techniques, such as exercise and meditation. 

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 17, 2017

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Psoriasis. American Academy of Family Physicians. Last reviewed/updated: July 2010. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/skin/disorders/199.printerview.html
  2. Psoriasis & Psoriatic Arthritis. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_psoriasis.html
  3. What Is Psoriasis? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. National Institutes of Health. September 2009. (http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Psoriasis/psoriasis_ff.asp);
  4. Emotions: Overcoming Depression. National Psoriasis Foundation. http://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/sublearn05_living_emodep
  5. Psoriasis Triggers. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.skincarephysicians.com/psoriasisnet/triggers.html

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