Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the skin. The skin cells divide rapidly and form layers of a thick, red, itchy rash and silver-colored scales. People with psoriasis often cycle through flare-ups and remissions. Though scientists have not found a cure, understanding the causes of psoriasis may help limit occurrences.
The consensus in the medical world is that genetics is a vital factor in psoriasis, although the mechanism is not well understood. Almost 33% of people with psoriasis report a family history of the skin condition, and there is a 66% to 90% chance of it appearing in both identical twins.
Though people with HIV are no more likely to develop psoriasis, if they do, it is usually a more severe form. Because their immune system is already compromised, their flare-ups are harder to control, and the risk of complications is higher.
Many people's first episode of psoriasis occurs after a viral or bacterial infection. Strep throat, certain skin conditions, and the flu are common triggers. The exact link between these infections and psoriasis is not clearly understood.
Certain medications can provoke drug-induced psoriasis or cause flare-ups in some individuals. Beta-blockers, which are common blood pressure medications, anti-malarial medications, cancer immunotherapy medications, interferons, lithium, ACE inhibitors, several iodides, and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could cause psoriasis flare-ups. A rebound effect may occur after ending the use of corticosteroids.
Seasonal changes and climatic conditions may also lead to psoriatic flare-ups. Cold air and dry skin due to lack of moisture during winter months, combined with reduced sunlight, may provoke episodes.
Exposure to sunlight can influence the likelihood of developing psoriasis or an outbreak. Psoriasis is linked to both too little and too much sunlight. Moderate sun exposure may suppress the immune system and reduce psoriasis symptoms. Sunlight also encourages the body to produce more vitamin D. Some research suggests that higher vitamin D is beneficial for psoriasis, although more research is needed. It is best to speak with a health care professional about the optimal amount of sun exposure.
Cuts, burns, and other types of skin lesions are also potential triggers of psoriasis. Open wounds and the body's tendency to fight infection may trigger psoriatic attacks.
Studies indicate that people who drink frequently are more likely to develop psoriasis. A sudden increase in alcohol consumption may provoke psoriatic flares by triggering inflammation. Doctors recommend people at risk of developing psoriasis keep their alcohol intake low.
As with alcohol consumption, smoking has links to problems with psoriasis. Smokers, especially those who smoke 5-10 times a day, are at risk of more intense and frequent episodes. Smoking also doubles the risk of developing psoriasis.
Studies show a relationship between weight and skin outbreaks. Overweight people predisposed to psoriasis benefit from losing weight, which may decrease their risk of developing the disease.
In a large number of cases, the first breakout of psoriasis happens during a major life-changing or stressful event. These stress-induced flare-ups are often intense and painful. Learning methods to reduce or manage stress may help prevent future psoriatic episodes.
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