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Understanding psoriasis

Psoriasis was once thought to be a chronic skin condition. We now know it’s an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body and more than 7 million Americans suffer from it. The telltale sign is one or more itchy patches of thick, reddened skin with silvery scales, often found on the elbows, knees, scalp and torso.

But the skin isn’t the only organ affected. Psoriasis can trigger inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and even heart disease. Studies link psoriasis to increased risk for heart attack, irregular heartbeats, valve problems and even heart failure. Although scientists don’t know the exact connection between psoriasis and heart disease, they do know that inflammation plays a role. If you suffer from psoriasis, take steps to keep your heart healthy. Eat a low-fat diet, get plenty of exercise and find ways to reduce stress—a major psoriasis trigger.

Managing psoriasis

Psoriasis has no known cure. But an infection, dry skin, a change in temperature or certain drugs such as antidepressants or blood pressure medicines can trigger a flare-up. A number of treatment options can relieve your symptoms. These include:

  • Treating dry and itchy skin. Soak in a warm tub for 15 minutes. Then apply moisturizers and capsaicin (Zostrix), an ointment made from hot chili peppers, to help relieve itching.
  • Using alternative remedies. You can try drinking green tea, which some research suggests may help shrink psoriatic skin sores. Omega-3 fatty acids, the fats found in oily fish like salmon and tuna and in supplements, can help reduce inflammation.
  • Seeking treatment for a flare-up. For a mild case, your healthcare provider may prescribe topical creams, lotions, gels, ointments and shampoos. For a moderate case, laser or light therapy and either artificial light or sunlight may be prescribed. Severe cases may require medication.