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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(3):736

See related article on psoriasis.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis (say: sore-eye-a-sis) is a very common skin disorder. Over 7 million people in the United States have it. It causes large red or purple patches on your skin, with scaly skin on top of them. The patches look thick and bumpy. They are usually on the elbows, knees and scalp, but they can be anywhere.

In mild cases, psoriasis affects a few areas; in severe cases, it can be over your whole body.

You may be embarrassed when your patches are where other people can see them.

What causes psoriasis?

No one knows exactly what causes psoriasis. The reason your skin becomes thick and red is that the skin cells are growing faster than normal. Because of their rapid growth, there isn't enough time for the cells to shed (fall off). As a result, the cells pile up on top of each other, making thick, scaly patches on your skin.

Who gets psoriasis? Is it contagious?

Anyone can get psoriasis. Men, women, children and people of all races get psoriasis.

It isn't contagious. You can't catch psoriasis from another person. The disease sometimes runs in families.

Can psoriasis be cured?

No, there is no cure for psoriasis. But proper treatment can control the disease so it doesn't bother you so much.

What treatments are available for psoriasis?

Keeping your skin moisterized with over-the-counter products is a good first step. Prescription creams, ointments and lotions (called topical medicines) that you put on the affected areas are often used. Shampoos are used for psoriasis on the scalp. In more severe cases, medicines are taken in pill form.

Other treatments include a special type of ultraviolet light therapy. Sunlight can help psoriasis. You should use a sunscreen on the parts of your skin that aren't affected by psoriasis. It's especially important to put sunscreen on your face.

What makes psoriasis worse?

Some things that can make psoriasis worse are stress and infections. Some medicines can make it worse, too. These medicines include lithium, and certain high blood pressure medicines, such as beta blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, as well as pain relievers like some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen).

How can I learn more about psoriasis?

Talk with your family doctor. You may find information about psoriasis at your public library. The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) also provides information about psoriasis. You can call the NPF at 1-800-723-9166 to ask for free information. You can also go to the NPF Web site (http://www.psoriasis.org).

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