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What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic, noncontagious skin condition characterized by scaling and inflammation. The inflamed skin forms red, thickened areas with silvery scales. The condition is most commonly found on the scalp, elbows, forearms, knees, shins, ankles, and lower back. The inflammation may also affect the fingernails, toenails, soft tissues of the mouth, genitalia, and joints. The inflamed skin is usually asymptomatic, but may cause pain and discomfort by cracking. Psoriasis is rarely itchy.

Possible Regions of Psoriasis
Possible Regions of Psoriasis
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

The exact cause of psoriasis has not been determined, but current theories suggest that it may be a disorder of the immune system. It appears that T-cells, a type of white blood cell that normally protects the body against infection and disease, trigger...

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop psoriasis with or without the risk factors listed below. In fact, most cases of psoriasis are not associated with any of the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing psoriasis. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors include:

Genetic Factors

There is a strong genetic component to psoriasis. In about one third of all cases, there is a family history of psoriasis.

Certain Medical Conditions

Medical conditions that are most likely to trigger psoriasis include:

Stress/emotional disorders:Stress, suppressed anger,...

There are several types of psoriasis. Each type of psoriasis has unique “signs.” Doctors look for signs during a physical exam so they can distinguish one type of psoriasis from another. Examples of signs include descriptions of the location and shape and pattern of the lesions. Symptoms are words that patients use to describe how their disease feels. Psoriasis is typically asymptomatic, but the affected skin may elicit discomfort due to shedding or fissuring. Most types of psoriasis are classically not itchy.

© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

The following is a brief outline of each type of psoriasis and a description of the accompanying signs and symptoms.

Plaque Psoriasis

Plaque psoriasis is the most common form. It is named for the “plaques,” or lesions, that are characteristic of this...

Although most cases of psoriasis can be reliably diagnosed by simple physical examination, some cases can be difficult to diagnose, because the appearance can be similar to other skin conditions. Currently, there is no blood test that can conclusively diagnose psoriasis. A skin biopsy is the most specific test in the diagnosis of psoriasis.

Your doctor may do the following tests to determine whether or not you have psoriasis:

Physical examination—Your doctor will begin by carefully examining your skin, scalp, fingernails, and toenails for reddening or scaling skin that is characteristic of psoriasis. Small pits on the fingernails are also signs of psoriasis. Your doctor will also examine your joints for signs of psoriatic arthritis.

Skin biopsy—To confirm the diagnosis,...

In general, outbreaks of psoriasis are difficult to prevent. However, avoiding or minimizing well-known triggers can help reduce the risk of an outbreak. These triggers include:

Stress:Maintaining emotional balance and avoiding stress are strongly recommended, as stress may be a trigger of psoriasis outbreaks. If you need support or assistance in reducing stress, you may want to try some of the following techniques:

  • Counseling
  • Psoriasis support groups
  • Stress management classes
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Yoga

Weather exposure:If you have had psoriasis, try to protect your skin at all times from cold, dry weather conditions, and minimize outdoor exposure during cold weather. Conversely, although, in mild to moderate doses UV light improves psoriasis, do not...

American Academy of Dermatology


P.O. Box 4014
Schaumburg, IL 60168-4014



Internet address:

Description of services provided:

On this website, you can find patient education information on psoriasis, as well as a related website (Psoriasisnet).

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)


1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, Maryland 20892-3675



Internet address:

Description of services provided:

The National Institutes of Health site provides in-depth information on psoriasis, treatment,...

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