Psoriasis Insights

How to Tell If It's Psoriasis

A guide to spotting symptoms and getting help


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The most common type of psoriasis—plaque psoriasis—usually appears as red, raised patches of skin covered in white, flaking scales that crop up on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet, or lower back.

Those with psoriasis may also experience itching, nail disfigurement (about half of people with the disease experience discoloration, separation from the nail bed, or thickened or pocked nails), and dry or cracked skin that can bleed.

In guttate psoriasis, the second most common form of the disease, the patches are small and shaped like drops of water.

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Painful swelling of the joints is a common symptom of psoriatic arthritis, which can develop before or after someone is diagnosed with psoriasis. Up to 30% of people with psoriasis will also have psoriatic arthritis.

Because skin conditions often resemble one another, it is best to see your primary care provider for a diagnosis. Your psoriasis may flare without warning or be triggered by stress, medications, a skin injury, dry skin, or other stimuli. It can remit as quickly as it came, but it usually requires treatment to keep the condition from worsening.

Seeking medical help
You should see a doctor if you think you may have psoriasis or if you have already been diagnosed and your psoriasis worsens and causes pain, discomfort, or emotional stress; interferes with your normal activities; or does not respond to a treatment you have been prescribed. It often takes trial and error to find the treatment that works best for you.

Doctors usually gauge the severity of psoriasis based on the percentage of your body that is affected. If you have plaques only on your elbows and knees, for instance, you probably have a mild case. Moderate psoriasis is traditionally defined as covering less than 20% of your skin and can be accompanied by nondebilitating joint pain. Severe psoriasis is characterized by more than 20% body coverage or psoriasis that develops in certain critical areas, such as the face. People with severe psoriasis may also develop fluid-filled plaques (pustular psoriasis) and psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriasis typically goes through cycles of flaring and subsiding, but rarely achieves permanent remission. There are, however, many new treatments available that can help people with psoriasis effectively control the disease and live a more comfortable, less painful life.
Lead writer: Kate Rope
Last Updated: May 14, 2009

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