Anyone who has psoriasis knows the discomfort it can cause—itching, burning, stinging, soreness. It can even prevent some people from participating in the social activities they enjoy if they’re uncomfortable being seen in public with the telltale raised red patches, sometimes with silverish-white scales on their skin.
Psoriasis can be confused with eczema because the two share some symptoms, but there are a couple of symptoms that can set psoriasis apart—stiff, swollen joints and patches of inflamed redness. People can be genetically predisposed to contracting psoriasis if one or especially both parents suffer from it, but it can also arise from environmental triggers.
At its core, psoriasis is an autoimmune disease; it’s an immune system response in which the body’s T cells that normally protect it against disease go awry and start attacking healthy skin cells. This, in turn, triggers other immune responses, creating more severe reactions.
Flare-ups can last from weeks to months and can be cyclical; outbreaks can range from mild to severe, showing up in small spots or spreading over large areas. Some of the most common triggers are chronic stress, obesity, food allergies or sensitivities, medications, drying environmental conditions, infections, over-consumption of alcohol, and smoking.
The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) states that there are five different types of psoriasis, ranging from common to rare: plaque (most common type), guttate, inverse, pustular, and erythrodermic (rare and most severe; can become life-threatening). Each type presents with a different appearance and usually shows up in specific areas of the head and body, but flare-ups can occur anywhere.
There are further risks to having psoriasis, and among them is the possibility of developing psoriatic arthritis, a debilitating condition marked by inflammation, pain, and progressive joint damage. The NPF estimates that approximately 30 percent of people with psoriasis will be diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. If left untreated, psoriatic arthritis can cause permanent joint damage; in addition, more than 30 percent of patients with psoriatic arthritis developed hearing loss, and more than 26 percent had inner ear damage.
Other possible serious health conditions that could arise from having psoriasis include cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, Crohn’s disease, kidney disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, osteoporosis, depression, diabetes and more. The NPF states that there is a “significant association between psoriatic disease and metabolic syndrome”, which includes several health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure and abdominal obesity; approximately 40 percent of psoriasis patients develop metabolic syndrome.
Dermatologists typically treat psoriasis with topical creams and moisturizers in an effort to minimize discomfort and lessen the appearance of flare-ups; they may also use phototherapy or prescribe immune-suppressing medications. However, these creams and medications merely suppress the symptoms to some degree—and many have dangerous side effects that can lead to new serious health issues.
While conventional medicine looks to suppress the immune system, functional medicine works to strengthen it. Specialists like dermatologists, endocrinologists and others focus only on the affected organ system of their specialty rather than the whole person; therefore, if the root of the condition stems from a different part of the body or another undetected disorder, it will remain overlooked and the problem continues…and usually worsens.
As with any autoimmune disease, there is an underlying cause that goes far deeper than the skin reactions you see on the surface. And the only way to truly manage any autoimmune disease, including psoriasis, so that you don’t have to endure the constant cyclical flare-ups is to find out why your immune system has become confused enough to attack healthy tissue. Standard blood, urine, and other tests don’t dig deep enough to unearth the real problem, but your functional medicine doctor will conduct extremely comprehensive tests to reach the “why” of your psoriasis.
The answer to reversing or preventing your psoriasis—or any health issue—from progressing further lies in finding both the root cause and your specific triggers. Everyone’s triggers are different, and there can be a combination of culprits including food sensitivities or allergies, stress, environmental toxins, nutritional deficiencies, undiscovered infections, genetic factors, leaky gut and others. Through a correct diagnosis of the true cause of your psoriasis, proper lifestyle changes will help to heal the source—which not only helps your skin, but can also prevent other health issues from developing.