Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(5):715

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis (sor-EYE-ah-sis) is a condition that causes thick red or silvery spots that look like scales to form on your skin. The scaling is probably the result of an increase in the number of skin cells. Sometimes pus-filled blisters form. Most of the time, the skin on the elbows and knees is affected, but psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body.

Doctors aren't sure what causes psoriasis. It seems to get worse in many people when they are under stress or when they have an infection. Some medicines may make psoriasis worse, too.

Is psoriasis contagious?

No. You can't catch psoriasis from another person or give it to someone by touching them, and you can't spread it to other parts of your body.

How is psoriasis treated?

There are several treatments for psoriasis. Your doctor will decide which one is right for you. Moisturizing your skin is a good first step.

Medicated creams, ointments, lotions, and gels are often prescribed for psoriasis. Your doctor may tell you to put medicine on the scales before you go to bed and then cover the areas with plastic wrap.

Special shampoos are used for psoriasis on the scalp. In more severe cases, medicines are taken by mouth. Other treatments include a special type of light therapy.

Sunlight can help psoriasis, but be careful not to stay in the sun too long. A sunburn can make your psoriasis worse. You should use sunscreen on the parts of your skin that aren't affected by psoriasis. It is especially important to put sunscreen on your face.

Will psoriasis go away with treatment?

The scales should start to go away almost immediately after you begin treatment. It may take two to six weeks for the affected areas to return to a more normal thickness, and the redness may last several months. Although psoriasis will improve, it may not go away completely.

After you've been using a certain medicine for awhile, your psoriasis may “get used to” the treatment and your medicine may not be as effective. If this happens, your doctor may change your medicine or give you a stronger dosage. Talk to your doctor if your psoriasis doesn't seem to be getting better with treatment.

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