Last updated: Nov 15, 2010
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Between 5.8 million and 7.5 million people live with the skin disease psoriasis, yet almost half with moderate to severe cases are not getting treatment and others are receiving out-of-date treatment. Why? Because the condition is still widely misunderstood—people who live with it can be subject to prejudice and discrimination—and treatments have not been very good until now.

“Just a few years ago, we didnt have such great options,” says Steven Feldman, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. “Thats changed! Treatments are now more effective, safer, and easier to use than ever.”

Psoriasis is an often painful and itchy chronic skin condition that produces red, inflamed patches on the skin. The patches, which are not contagious, are usually covered with a white buildup of dead skin cells. Scientists are not sure what causes it, but they do know that psoriasis involves a genetic dysfunction that triggers an inappropriate immune response, leading to the rapid production of new skin cells.

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There are five types of psoriasis: plaque (the most common form), guttate, inverse, pustular, and erythrodermic. Psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body and up to 30% of people with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis, a painful condition in which joints are inflamed and stiff.

“Psoriasis is largely an inherited condition, but it involves multiple genes and possibly some environmental factors to bring the disease on,” says Dr. Feldman. Common triggers include stress; skin trauma, such as sunburn or wounds; some medications, including antimalarial drugs; and, in the case of guttate psoriasis, strep infection.

Because psoriasis manifests itself on the skin, living with it can have a profound psychological impact. Some people with mild cases may be able to cover up or successfully control outbreaks so that they are not obvious to other people. Those with more severe psoriasis are subject to the sometimes-ignorant reactions of others. In many ways, this can be the hardest thing about living with psoriasis.

Its important for psoriasis patients to find the support and treatment they need so they can control their psoriasis as well as possible and can live as comfortably—emotionally and physically—as possible.

This guide to psoriasis will explain how to get the right diagnosis, find the best care, learn about the new and highly effective treatments, seek out support, and learn to live a healthier and happier life with psoriasis.