Psoriasis is a skin disease that develops when new skin cells form and migrate to the skin's surface much more rapidly than normal, causing a buildup of cells that form flaky, scaly patches called plaques. In normal, healthy skin, the skin cell renewal process takes about a month - from the formation of the new cells in the deep layers of tissue to the time those cells migrate to the surface to replace old, dead or damaged cells. In psoriatic skin, the renewal process takes just a few days to complete, which means skin cells on the surface don't have a chance to shed or slough off before the new cells reach the surface. Although the specific cause of psoriasis isn't known, most researchers agree the condition develops when the immune system malfunctions and causes skin cells to grow at an abnormally rapid rate. People with a family history of psoriasis are also more likely to have the disease.
The most common symptom of psoriasis is plaque formation. These raised patches of flaky or scaly skin may appear pinkish, brownish or shiny compared to surrounding skin, and they often itch, weeping or even bleeding when rubbed or scratched. Psoriasis can also cause crusting in affected areas, especially in the scalp. People with severe psoriasis may have pitting or discoloration in their fingernails or toenails, and some patients will develop psoriatic arthritis that causes inflammation and aching in the joints. Plaques can occur nearly anywhere on the body, and symptoms can become worse after prolonged sun exposure, following an injury to the skin, or when irritated by detergents or other agents. Psoriasis is not contagious.
Psoriasis cannot be cured, but it can be managed with routine doctor's visits and through medication or other treatments. Once the diagnosis of psoriasis has been confirmed, treatment options may include topical creams and lotions, oral medications, or light or laser therapy. Keeping the skin moisturized and avoiding irritating soaps and detergents can help reduce itchiness.
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