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This article was published 15/7/2016 (1352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Do you have an itch that simply can’t be scratched?
If so, you are not alone. Every year millions of Canadians find themselves dealing with skin problems that drive them to distraction.
In most cases, the itch can be attributed to something relatively minor, such as dry skin or a mild case of eczema or dermatitis. Usually, this condition can be dealt with by over- the-counter medications.
But there are occasions when the itchiness may signal a more serious health issue. This is particularly true in cases of psoriasis.
Psoriasis comes from the Greek words "psora" meaning itch and "iasis" meaning a condition.
The Canadian Dermatology Association estimates about one million Canadians are affected by one of five types of psoriasis. They are:
Plaque psoriasis: Also known as psoriasis vulgaris, this is the most common type of psoriasis, representing about 90 per cent of all cases. It usually presents with raised red patches and silver scales on top. These patches are frequently found on the front of the knees or shins, the back of the elbows or forearm, and the scalp.
Guttate psoriasis: Usually marked by patches that present in teardrop-like lesions over large areas of the body, this type of psoriasis can often be found on the trunk of the body. It is triggered by streptococcal infections such as strep throat.
Inverse psoriasis: Sometimes misdiagnosed as a fungal infection, this type of psoriasis presents as flat, smooth, inflamed patches of skin that are found in skin folds such as the groin, in the buttock crease, armpits and under the breasts.
Pustular psoriasis: This condition usually presents as red raised vesicles filled with pus. They are often painful and can be found on the hands or feet, or more generalized over the large parts of the body.
Erythrodermic psoriasis: This type of psoriasis is marked by an extensive inflammation and exfoliation of most of the body. It can be fatal.
The cause of psoriasis remains unknown, but experts say the condition can be attributed to a misfiring of the body’s immune system that causes skin cells in a particular area to multiply out of control, resulting in patches of red, scaly and itchy skin. Environmental elements, such as infections or trauma, can trigger a flare-up of psoriasis, and symptoms tend to be worse with physical and psychological stress, in the winter, and while on certain medications.
People with psoriasis can experience significant discomfort and a serious loss in quality of life. In addition, the condition has been linked to increased risk of other chronic conditions, including psoriatic arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, cholesterol problems, Crohn’s disease, certain cancers, including skin cancer, and depression.
As a result, people who suspect they may have psoriasis are well advised to discuss the issue with their health-care provider.
The good news is most cases of psoriasis (67 per cent) are considered mild and only eight percent are considered severe. There are effective treatments that can help minimize the discomfort associated with this condition.
Cases of mild to moderate psoriasis are usually treated with high-potency topical steroid creams, vitamin D creams such as paricalcitol, and phototherapy.
Cases of severe psoriasis, meanwhile, are generally treated with systemic medications such as methotrexate and biologic drugs such as infliximab, adalimumab and etanercept. Biologic drugs are manufactured proteins that modify the immune response in psoriasis. Other medications such as ciclosporin and vitamin A derivatives (retinoids) are also used.
Individuals can also take steps to reduce flare-ups. They include:
• Avoiding skin injuries and infections. • Taking steps to reduce stress.
• Exercising daily and maintaining a healthy weight.
• Avoiding drinking too much alcohol. • Taking care of your skin. Your health-care provider can suggest soaps, lotions and cosmetics that will help you manage your condition.
Psoriasis is a serious condition that can cause significant discomfort. In most cases, this condition can be managed with proper care.
Donna Alden-Bugden is a nurse practitioner at McGregor QuickCare Clinic.
Updated on Friday, July 15, 2016 at 7:45 AM CDT: Adds photo