Wondering if your itchy skin is just a regular flare-up or a sign of a more serious problem? We sat down with Charlotte’s Book Premier Provider Dr. Marni Nussbaum, a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, to talk about psoriasis symptoms and treatments.
Psoriasis is a genetic disease of the immune system that can affect the skin, nails and sometimes joints: skin cells grow abnormally faster than the rate at which your body can shed them, resulting in patches of dry, scaly skin where dead skin cells have too quickly built-up. Plaque psoriasis, the most common type, is marked by red, raised patches covered with white buildup of dead skin cells that are itchy and can crack and bleed.
Psoriasis affects nearly 7.5 million people in the United States, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. While this disease is inherited, someone can have the psoriasis gene all their lives without presenting symptoms. Only about 3% of those who inherit psoriasis suffer the symptoms, usually after they are exposed to a trigger, which can range from injury to the skin, a severe sunburn or an allergic reaction to stress, smoking, or cold weather.
But having psoriasis is not a sentence to living with constantly uncomfortable, and often painful, skin. There are effective treatments for the disease and recent developments in research are helping to alleviate the pain. If you show signs of psoriasis, here’s how to help control symptoms and outbreaks.
BE MINDFUL IN YOUR DIET
“Foods that tend to be high in saturated and trans fats, refined starches and sugars, as well as dairy products have all been known to cause some degree of inflammation. Although there’s no scientific evidence that links certain foods to psoriasis, some research suggests a healthy diet may improve the condition,” says Dr. Nussbaum. Foods she suggests to consume: “Gluten-free and antioxidant-rich diets have anecdotally been found to be helpful. Fish oil has also shown to improve symptoms of psoriasis.” To keep track of what your individual triggers may be and foods that actually help your condition, keep a food journal and document your breakouts to watch for trends. Dr. Nussbaum adds, “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, protein and vegetables is always beneficial for healthy skin.”
ASK YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT BIOLOGICS
The latest advancement in psoriasis care is injectable biologics. Biologic agents “are essentially proteins that have pharmacologic activity which manipulate the immune system to reduce the speed at which the skin cells are growing,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. Unfortunately, since these promising drugs actually slow down the immune system, patients must take even the smallest infection seriously. “Prior to therapy, the patient must undergo a series of blood tests to ensure any underlying conditions and risk factors are known and then a risk-benefit analysis is done to decide on the best mode of therapy. Biologics also may increase the risk of certain types of cancers. However, these therapies have significantly altered the lives of patients with severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis,” cautions Dr. Nussbaum. Speak with your doctor to see if biologics is worth the risk for you.
BE GLOBAL IN YOUR APPROACH
Psoriasis is unique in that it is not caused by easily definable triggers. “Psoriasis has proven in recent years to be far more than skin deep. Genetics, environment and the immune system all seem to play a role in the type, severity and treatment of psoriasis,” says Dr. Nussbaum. While the varied and encompassing nature of the disease seems daunting, there is an advantage for those currently suffering. “Over time, we have come to understand the increasing role of the immune system in the course of the disease which has allowed the advent of newer treatments,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. “Today’s psoriasis patient has many more therapies at their disposal, including light therapy, systematic medications and biologic therapies. Depending on the type, an individualized treatment regimen can be made by both physician and patient together in order to accommodate lifestyle factors in addition to severity of disease.” That’s news that is especially encouraging for new patients to know; now, more than ever, diverse treatment is available offering effective results.
SEE YOUR DOCTOR REGULARLY — AND NOT JUST ABOUT YOUR SKIN
As studies and research continue to unlock the mysteries of psoriasis, surprising discoveries have been made that could save lives. Dr. Nussbaum breaks it down: “People with psoriasis are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and stroke, as well as possibly diabetes and certain types of cancers such as prostate cancer, lymphoma and skin cancer. It is extremely important for patients with psoriasis to maintain a healthy lifestyle and be diligent with routine physician examinations.” Additionally, hard to control factors like mood can set off a breakout, making emotional and mental health to be an important factor in controlling psoriasis. “Stress has always been associated with worsening of skin conditions among many other systemic diseases. Therefore, stress lowering activities are always encouraged,” advises Dr. Nussbaum.
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