Psoriasis is an auto-immune disorder that affects the skin and joints. There are many different and completely nasty kinds of psoriasis, but in this post I'll talk mostly about Plaque Psoriasis, which is the most common form.
To understand what Psoriasis is, we've got to know what causes it. The problem is, no one's quite figured that out yet. However, the closest scientists have gotten is that Psoriasis is caused by crazy-go-nuts T-cells attacking the skin.
What's a T-Cell?
A T-Cell is a special cell in your body who's job is to protect against infection. In auto-immune disorders (like Psoriasis, Rhumatoid Arthritis, Fibromaiyalgia, and AIDS), something happens to the T-Cells to confuse them and make them start attacking your own healthy flesh. In cases like Psoriasis, no one knows why.
Ew, AIDS? *scoots away
Yes, but Psoriasis isn't contagious in the least.
So, back to to the T-Cells...
So with Psoriasis, the T-Cells think that something bad is happening to the skin-- there's a wound, or some kind of horrible infection-- and pull the alarm switch that turns on the skin's natural defenses. Usually, when you have a scrape, this means that your skin cleans itself out with white blood cells, scabs over to protect the wound, and then quickly grows new skin to seal up the hole. However, with Psoriasis, there is no hole. But the skin starts to grow anyway.
And it ends up looking like this:
(This person's actually looks like they just applied some topical cream to it or something, because for that amount of coverage area, there's no white scaling at all. I could be wrong though.)
In A Nutshell:
The skin cell of a regular person has a lifespan of about two weeks before it dies and sloughs off. Skin cells in areas affected by Psoriasis live two days, and even before that, more skin cells are lining up underneath it to take its place. So the white scales you'd see on a person with severe Plaque Psoriasis are actually little mounds of dead skin cells. Yum!
Why It Sucks:
The word "Psoriasis" is derived from the Greek word psora which means to itch. And boy, does it itch. You know how when you have a little scab that itches, and you want to pick at it but you know you shouldn't? It's like that, only times a hundred hundred thousand. There is no option of not itching, unless you have no hands, and then I'm sure you'd find a tree or something to rub against.
There's also the fact that it's like having killer dandruff all over your body. Say goodbye to anything but white sheets and comforters, unless you want to wake up to little drifts of skin cells in the folds of your bed. Depending on the severity, you can also say goodbye to swimsuits, relationships, and a social life. Oh, and your sanity. Many sufferers of Psoriasis also suffer from severe depression as a result. (Can you blame them?)
So rub some cream on it or something, geez!
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Psoriasis. Remember how we talked about how it's (most likely) caused by rampaging T-Cells? Well there's nothing to be done about it unless you can stop those T-Cells, but without those, your body has no protection against infection, and you die very quickly. There are treatments, however:
Topical Creams Are usually the most popular method for getting rid of the symptoms of mild to moderate Plaque Psoriasis. However, they only work on the surface of the skin, and do nothing for the real problem. Also, they're goopy and annoying to use. (In addition, some genius at the pharmacutical company decided that there should be rubbing alcohol in a topical ointment that has to be applied to cracked skin and open sores. Riiiiight.)
Phototherapy is another popular treatment, usually for patients with more severe symptoms. This involves standing in a special box and being bombarded with UVB rays, which causes the Plaques to recede. I've never tried this method, so I can't attest to its affectiveness.
Chemotherapy is like the nuclear bomb of Psoriasis treatment: it's powerful, it works, but it's hugely dangerous and should only be used as a last resort. There's a cancer medication called Methotrexate that was found to virtually erase the symptoms of Psoriasis. It's like a miracle pill! The downside: it's deadly. Like any other chemotherapy, it can cause hair loss, weakened bone marrow, a suppressed immune system, and death. This treatment is usually reserved for people whose Psoriasis is so severe that they are unable to function because of it.
Hoped you liked my little skin-lecture!
Here are some more gross pictures, for those who're interested.