Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that is characterized by severe itching and silvery-white flakes on inflamed, reddened skin. The likelihood of developing psoriasis is hereditary – it can be triggered by various factors such as stress, infections, hormonal changes and other factors.
Psoriasis usually flares up and then settles down again: in other words, acute flares alternate with symptom-free phases. An acute phase begins when the immune system responds incorrectly: triggers that should actually be harmless activate inflammatory reactions and significantly accelerate the skin renewal process. It normally takes about 28 days for a new skin cell to reach the surface of the skin, but during an acute psoriasis phase it only takes 3–7 days. This causes an excessive number of immature skin cells to gather on the skin’s surface and form the typical silvery flakes of skin. People who have plaque psoriasis (psoriasis vulgaris), which is the most common form at 80% of all cases, this happens in well-defined, raised areas of skin, called plaques.
After atopic dermatitis, psoriasis is the second most common chronic skin disease. Approx. two million people in Germany are affected by psoriasis. It frequently first occurs before the age of 40 (Type 1 psoriasis); the disease is much rarer among children than atopic dermatitis, however. The later type (Type 2 psoriasis), in which psoriasis first appears at a more advanced age, is less common. Both the degree of severity and the duration of an acute phase can differ greatly from individual to individual. Besides the skin, this disease can affect the joints and also the nails, blood vessels and organs.
Many psoriasis patients experience a lower quality of life due to the disease: although psoriasis is not contagious, patients are sometimes excluded by other people, and they suffer from the resulting mental problems. But there is some good news as well: although there is no cure for psoriasis, there is very good treatment which can help people cope with the symptoms.
The causes of psoriasis have not yet been fully researched. It is known that several genes play an important role. However, only the predisposition and not the disease itself is hereditary: and so it is possible for neither father nor mother to have psoriasis, but their child is still diagnosed.
Conversely, a hereditary predisposition alone does not necessarily mean that the disease will occur. Other internal or external factors are needed in order to trigger the condition: injuries or persistent friction are just as possible as psychological strain. Infectious diseases, metabolic and hormonal disturbances, and also environmental influences can all be factors that trigger psoriasis.