Everything You Need to Know About Psoriasis

Editor’s note: ClassPass is excited to partner with the National Psoriasis Foundation and Janssen to help empower those living with psoriasis. Please note this blog isn’t official campaign content but an introduction to this condition for ClassPass readers. 

If you’ve ever experienced psoriasis first hand, you know how uncomfortable and embarrassing it can be to walk around with scaly, inflamed red patches on your skin. Even more frustrating is the fact that you most likely have no idea what caused the break out in the first place, and can’t seem to find one solution that actually reduces the redness and inflammation associated with it. Especially during the winter, psoriasis can become increasingly worse due to a combination of dry air, decreased UV exposure from natural sunlight and colder temperatures. So we asked top experts for the scoop on this pesky skin condition and whether there’s anything you can do about it.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common skin condition that affects approximately 2-3 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 7.5 million people. It often presents itself as thick, silvery, scaly, over-inflamed, red and often itchy patches or “plaques” of skin, appearing mostly on the knees, elbows, behind the ears and on the scalp. “The skin in psoriasis undergoes rapid proliferation as a result of increased inflammatory signals to the skin cells,” Tanya Kormeili, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Santa Monica, Calif., explains. There a number of different types of psoriasis, and many types have triggers that can cause symptoms to flare up more frequently. While a lot of people think it’s contagious, the good news is that it’s not.

What are symptoms of psoriasis?

The most common symptoms associated with psoriasis are scabs on the elbows, knees and back, but symptoms can appear on any part of the body. It can also be quite itchy. In cases that the psoriasis plaque is thick, it can also crack, which can be painful or uncomfortable.

What causes psoriasis?

While most research has found psoriasis to be genetic and potentially caused by environmental triggers that remain unknown, only about 50% of the population has some kind of family history of the condition, and it’s known to frequently skip generations. “Studies have found what appears to be a relationship between the immune system turning on as a result of a genetic predisposition, however much more research needs to be done to find the exact relationship,” Dr. Kormeili says.

Are certain people more likely to get psoriasis than others?

Studies have shown that it can be more common in people suffering from obesity. “The disease itself doesn’t discriminate, but the severity and showing of the symptoms can be attributed to unhealthy lifestyles,” Stella Matsuda, M.D., founder of Matsuda Dermatology in Honolulu, Hawaii, says. “While there’s no direct correlation between exercising and psoriasis, keeping an ideal body weight is very helpful as the condition is hard to manage in skin folds of overweight patients.”

How do you treat psoriasis?

There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are a lot of treatment options including prescription-grade topical creams. Ultraviolet therapy, oral medications and injectable medication can be used for more severe cases, but a vast majority will have a more limited form of the disease. “Some cases with moderate to severe symptoms can have high-performance biologic agents that are given by injection or orally,” Dr. Matsuda says. “While we cannot cure psoriasis, new medications can now control it and its symptoms.”

Are there ways to prevent psoriasis?

There is no known methods to prevent psoriasis itself. Strep throat, certain medications, high stress levels among others are known to be potential trigger flare-ups and make it more difficult to get it under control. “To prevent the symptoms of psoriasis, the patient has to focus on preventing the triggers,” Dr. Matsuda says. “They can do that by living a healthy lifestyle and exercising, along with maintaining a healthy diet and weight.” Restraining from smoking and excessive drinking can also help prevent triggers and symptoms.

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.