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Psoriasis can be a maddening disease. Patches of thick, inflamed skin covered with silvery scales form here and there on the patient's body, often on the elbows, knees, other parts of the legs, scalp, lower back, face, palms, and soles of the feet. They usually itch or feel sore, and the more of the patches there are, generally, the worse the person suffers.
And because psoriasis is a genetic condition that causes inflammation by striking at the immune system, it can have other health effects. An estimated 10-30% of people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness and swelling in and around the joints, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Psoriasis sufferers also have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and other systemic health problems, said Jennifer Cather, MD, a Dallas dermatologist and a member of the Baylor University Medical Center's Division of Dermatology. "Often patients think psoriasis is just a rash, [but] it is a systemic inflammatory disease with far-reaching affects," Cather said. "Patients should be aware of that and understand that controlling that systemic inflammation can help with other diseases."
That's a message doctors are looking to share during August, Psoriasis Awareness Month. Until recently, there was little that could be done about the systemic damage done by psoriasis. Sufferers used topical creams to ease their itches or aches, or underwent expensive ultraviolet light treatments that disrupted the surface spread of psoriasis but did not address the underlying problems within the immune system.
But the past few years have seen the development of a new wave of drug treatments known as biologics. These medications do what previous treatments could not--go after the root of the problem by influencing the immune system.