Health advice
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Psoriasis is a condition that causes flaky, scaly skin. Read more to learn about symptoms, treatment and where else to go for help with psoriasis.
What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a condition that affects your skin, caused by a faulty immune system. It’s a common condition, affecting about 1.3–2.8% of people in the UK.1

It’s a chronic illness, which means it lasts for a long time. If you have psoriasis, you have periods where you have no symptoms and periods where your symptoms flare up.1 While psoriasis can’t be cured completely, there are lots of ways you can manage it.

What are the symptoms of psoriasis?

The main symptom of psoriasis is flaky, scaly patches of skin. These are usually painless but can sometimes be itchy and sore.2

These patches can appear anywhere on the skin, but most often affect your scalp, knees, elbows and face. The patches are usually pink or red, or purple or brown on some people with darker skin. The scales are white, silver or grey.2

Psoriasis can affect other parts of your body too. Some people with psoriasis experience stiffness, pain or swelling in their joints.3 Some people also experience problems with their nails, such as crumbling nails, pits in their nails, or the nails detaching from the nail bed.4

What can trigger psoriasis flare ups?

Psoriasis flare ups can happen for no reason, but there are some things that make them more likely to happen.

Some of these triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes, like puberty or menopause
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using drugs, or corticosteroid withdrawal
  • Injuries to the skin
  • Winter weather
  • Infections. 5, 6
What causes psoriasis?

Psoriasis happens because of a problem with your immune system, that makes it attack healthy skin cells. It can be caused by both genetics and things in your environment.5, 6

So, you’re more likely to have psoriasis if someone in your family also has it. But the same triggers that can cause a flare up of psoriasis often trigger the first episode.6

How is psoriasis diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of psoriasis, talk to your GP. They may be able to diagnose you by asking about your symptoms and examining your skin. Your GP may also refer you to a dermatologist, a specialist who focuses on treating skin conditions.2

A dermatologist can help examine your symptoms in more depth and rule out other conditions. Sometimes, they may have to send a small sample of your lesions off to a lab to help diagnose you. This is known as a biopsy.2

What conditions are linked to psoriasis?

Because psoriasis is an autoimmune condition and causes chronic inflammation, it can affect many other parts of your body.

If you have psoriasis, you’re at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It can also increase your chances of high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.7

About 4–14% of people with psoriasis also have Coeliac Disease, an autoimmune condition which causes a severe reaction to gluten.7 People with psoriasis are also seven times more likely to have Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation in your digestive system.8

How is psoriasis treated?

There are a range of treatments that can help manage the symptoms of psoriasis.

These treatments can be separated into three main categories:

  • Topical treatments, which you put on your skin
  • Systemic treatments, which are tablets or injections
  • Phototherapy, where ultraviolet light is shone on your skin.9

Some of the topical treatments for psoriasis include emollients, a type of moisturiser that reduces scaling and itchiness of the skin. You might also be given steroid creams or vitamin D analogue creams to bring down inflammation.9

Some of the systemic treatments used to treat psoriasis include anti-inflammatory medications, immunosuppressants (medicines that slow down the activity of your immune system) and biological treatments (medicines that are made out of living organisms).9

How else can you manage psoriasis?

While there’s no cure for psoriasis, treatment can help bring it under control and improve your quality of life. If you have psoriasis, it’s important to keep up with your treatment and have regular reviews.10

If you know what triggers your psoriasis flare ups, avoiding your triggers can help prevent an episode. If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight can also stop your psoriasis from getting worse. Stopping smoking if you smoke and not drinking too much alcohol can also help manage psoriasis.10

Visit your nearest pharmacy

Get support and advice from your local Well pharmacist

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Where can I get further support and information?

NHS website

Information about psoriasis, including symptoms, living with psoriasis and treatments to manage psoriasis.

NHS Inform

Information and support on psoriasis if you live in Scotland.

Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (PAAPA)

Information and support on living with psoriasis and treatments, with a forum for help and discussion.

  1. Psoriasis | Health topics A to Z | CKS | NICE. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  2. Psoriasis. Published October 20, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  3. Psoriatic arthritis. Published October 18, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  4. Nail involvement in psoriatic arthritis - PMC. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  5. Psoriasis - Causes. Published May 11, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  6. Trigger factors | Background information | Psoriasis | CKS | NICE. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  7. Associated conditions | Background information | Psoriasis | CKS | NICE. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  8. de Oliveira M de FSP, Rocha B de O, Duarte GV. Psoriasis: classical and emerging comorbidities. An Bras Dermatol. 2015;90(1):9-20. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20153038
  9. Psoriasis - Treatment. Published October 20, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2023.
  10. Psoriasis - Living with. Published October 20, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2023.

Reviewed by: Mital Thakrar

Review date: April 2023

Next review: April 2026

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