Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Psoriasis is a common and chronic skin disorder. Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis and is characterized by red skin covered with silvery scales and inflammation. Patches of circular to oval-shaped red plaques that itch or burn are typical of plaque psoriasis. The patches are usually found on the arms, legs, trunk, or scalp but may be found on any part of the skin. The most typical areas are the knees and elbows.
Plaque psoriasis on the elbow. Image courtesy of Hon Pak, MD.
Plaque psoriasis on the back. Image courtesy of Hon Pak, MD.
Psoriasis is not contagious but can be inherited. Research indicates that the disease may result from a disorder in the immune system (See Causes).
Approximately 1%-2% of people in the United States, or about 5.5 million, have plaque psoriasis. Up to 30% of people with plaque psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis. Individuals with psoriatic arthritis have inflammation in their joints and may have other arthritis symptoms. Sometimes plaque psoriasis can evolve into more severe disease, such as pustular psoriasis or erythrodermic psoriasis. In pustular psoriasis, the red areas on the skin contain blisters with pus. In erythrodermic psoriasis, a wide area of red and scaling skin is typical, and it may be itchy and painful.
Pustular psoriasis. Image courtesy of Hon Pak, MD.
Psoriasis affects children and adults. Men and woman are affected equally. Females develop plaque psoriasis earlier than males. The first peak occurrence of plaque psoriasis is in people aged 16-22 years. The second peak is in people aged 57-60 years.
Psoriasis can affect all races. Studies have shown that more people in western European and Scandinavian populations have psoriasis than those in other population groups.
Currently there is no cure for psoriasis. But many types of treatment are available, including products applied to the skin, phototherapy, and oral medicines, which can help control psoriasis. Most cases are mild and can be treated with skin products. In some cases, psoriasis can be hard to treat if it is severe and widespread. Most psoriasis returns, even mild forms.
The purpose of treatment is to slow the rapid growth of skin cells that causes psoriasis and to reduce inflammation. Treatment is based on the type of psoriasis you have, its location, its severity, and your age and overall health. It also depends on how much you are affected by the condition, either physically (because of factors such as joint pain) or emotionally (because of embarrassment or frustration from a skin rash that may cover a large or visible area of the body).