One million Canadians are affected by psoriasis. One million. It can happen to anyone and the underlying cause is often unknown. But it’s not contagious; it’s not caused by a lack of hygiene and it’s certainly not some kind of strange growth, infection or malady.
Now can we please end the stigma?
Psoriasis, although somewhat of a commonly misunderstood skin condition, is actually pretty simple to explain. It happens when faulty signals in the body’s immune system trigger new skin cells to form in three to four days instead of 30 days. Because the skin cells grow too quickly, they are not shed normally and pile up on the skin’s surface, creating sores or lesions, often called plaques. Thick, silvery scales form atop these itchy plaques and sometimes cause painful red patches.
It’s not always pretty to look at, but you know what’s worse? Living with the punishing and unfair effects of social stigma, such as being misjudged as unclean or incapable of being touched without passing on a condition that is out of your control.
It’s just excess skin, people.
Because psoriasis is a visible skin condition, it can affect people’s feelings, behaviour and experiences. Does it surprise you to learn that psoriasis is associated with a lack of self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and depression? We can change this, and it starts with you and me.
October 29, 2017 is World Psoriasis Day. It’s the perfect reason to educate ourselves about the condition and share ways that people with psoriasis can increase their self-esteem and regain a sense of control over the condition.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with Dr. Anatoli Freiman, a renowned dermatologist in Toronto, and ask him some questions about psoriasis to help debunk myths and promote understanding. Here’s our Q&A:
Q: We know that psoriasis may be hereditary, but it is possible to prevent it?
A: Psoriasis is largely hereditary, but there are some lifestyle changes patients can make to help prevent flare-ups, or reduce the onset of symptoms. Moisturizing the skin is important, as dry skin is more prone to flares. Stress reduction can be helpful for patients with a predisposition to psoriasis, and diet can make a difference to the severity of symptoms. (For instance, there is some evidence that food rich in Omega-3s can reduce the severity of psoriasis.) Weight control can make a difference, since being overweight has been linked to more severe psoriasis symptoms. And of course, cigarettes and alcohol are potential triggers of psoriasis flares, so it’s best to stay away or reduce your intake.
Q: What are the different forms of psoriasis?
A: There are a number of different types of psoriasis. The most common type is plaque psoriasis – around 80 per cent of the psoriasis patients I see have this type. There is also guttate, inverse, erythrodermic, pustular, palmar plantar or scalp psoriasis as well as psoriatic arthritis.
Q: How effective are today’s treatments? Related, can psoriasis be cured?
A: There has been a lot of research into psoriasis treatment in the past decade. Lots of extremely safe and effective treatments have become available. In the past you may have only been able to use a medicated cream to treat psoriasis, but now there are injectable biologics and pills that are very effective and widely used. There are a lot of potential options, so it’s very helpful for patients to talk to their doctor—modern treatments can be almost curative, or remittitive, for psoriasis.
Q: Besides my doctor and/ or dermatologist, are there any trusted sites you recommend for more information on psoriasis?
A: There’s a lot of information online, but it’s important to find credible sources. I would recommend starting with the Canadian Association of Psoriasis Patients website, the Toronto Psoriasis Centre (my clinic), and the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance.
Q: What’s the most popular misconception about psoriasis?
A: Psoriasis can be an emotionally and socially embarrassing condition because it’s so visible. The most common myth I’ve come across is that psoriasis is contagious, but it’s not. This is a scary misconception because I’ve seen the negative impact it can have on patients’ lives and lower their self-esteem.
Another myth is that psoriasis is caused by improper hygiene. Psoriasis is genetic, and it’s not a lack of washing that causes psoriasis to appear on the skin. In fact, 3-4% of Canadians have the condition, which is a significant portion.
Q: In advance of World Psoriasis Day, what’s one key takeaway for those living with psoriasis?
A: Seek information, educate yourself, be aware of the different treatments that are available, and work with your doctor to develop a long-term management strategy. October 29th is World Psoriasis Day, and I hope that patients feel empowered to talk to their health care professional and get the facts.
Do you or does someone you know live with psoriasis? Let’s end the stigma. Start by visiting canadianpsoriasis.ca. While there is no cure for psoriasis, there are numerous treatments and healthy lifestyle practices that can help.
Take charge. When you take action to manage your psoriasis, it will stop managing you.
This post was sponsored by The Canadian Association of Psoriasis Patients. The opinions on this blog, as always, are my own.