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Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition of unknown cause that waxes and wanes over time but tends to persist throughout life. Almost any part of the skin surface can be affected, but patches most commonly occur on the scalp, ears, knees, elbows and lower back. Some people are affected only on the palms and soles. This condition is inherited in only 25 percent of people, so most people with psoriasis do not have similarly affected family members. It can begin at any age and once it appears, there is a tendency to persist or recur throughout life.

Psoriasis usually presents as small or large, flat or thick, pink or silvery scaly patches of dry, flaky skin. Itching may or may not occur. Scratching is to be avoided as this will provoke more psoriasis as a response to the scratching injury. Besides skin changes, psoriasis can also involve nails and cause arthritis in the hands, spine, knees or ankles.

There is presently no known permanent cure for psoriasis. However, many different treatments are available to help control this distressing condition. Since psoriasis usually persists lifelong, continuous treatment is usually necessary. Mild forms can be manged with regular use of prescription creams, ointments or solutions that contain cortisone, tar or derivatives of vitamins A or D. For more widespread involvement, ultraviolet light or phototherapy is used. Severe forms, especially with associated arthritis, are treated with powerful but also toxic oral drugs, such as methotrexate, acitretin or cyclosporine. Often these different types of therapies are combined or rotated to improve results and lessen long-term side effects.

Probably the most difficult thing about having psoriasis is the general public's lack of knowledge about this condition. The red scaly appearance of the skin often triggers inappropriate fear of some dreadful condition that could be contagious. Psoriasis is not an infection, is not able to spread person-to-person, and is not associated with AIDS or cancer.

The National Psoriasis Foundation is a good resource of information on the latest therapies and good forum to hear from other people who also must live with this stressful condition. They can be reached at the following address:

National Psoriasis Foundation
6600 SW 92nd Ave. Suite 300
Portland, OR 97223-7165

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