World Psoriasis Day: Breaking Down Barriers For People With Psoriasis
EVERY day, people with psoriasis live with prejudice, exclusion, stigma and bullying. “People don’t understand psoriasis” says Sr Judy Wallace, chairperson of the South African Psoriasis Association. “Unfortunately it’s this lack of awareness and misinformation that not only results in people with psoriasis isolating themselves, but a lot of unnecessary suffering as well.” Public awareness is essential as people with psoriasis often face discrimination in the work place as well as in public spaces. We take a look at some facts surrounding psoriasis.
- Worldwide, psoriasis affects more than 125 million people.
- World Psoriasis Day is celebrated annually on 29th October, under the auspices of the International Federation of Psoriasis Associations (IFPA). The aim is to raise awareness and educate about psoriasis, dispel myths, improve access to treatment and let people with psoriasis know that they are not alone.
- Psoriasis is a common, chronic, relapsing inflammatory condition that primarily affects the skin, including the scalp, but which may also involve the finger and toe nails, and joints.
- Psoriasis is caused by inflammation resulting from over-activity of the immune system. It is characterised by relapses and remissions. However, it is incurable, meaning that once it occurs, it may reoccur for life.
- All ages may be affected, but psoriasis most commonly begins in the teenage and early adult years, before the age of 40.
- There is a strong genetic link to psoriasis. It occurs more commonly in people whose parents or siblings are affected. Almost three quarters of children with psoriasis have other members in their family with the condition, and the risk is doubled if a sibling and one parent have psoriasis. The onset of symptoms is often linked to an environmental stressor, such as infection or stress.
- The most common skin form of psoriasis, occurring in 9 out of 10 cases, is plaque psoriasis, characterised by clearly demarcated patches or ‘plaques’ of thick, red skin, covered with white or silver scales, occurring usually on both sides of the body over the back of the elbows, front of the knees, on the lower back and around the umbilicus.
- The skin lesions can be very uncomfortable, causing itching, burning, bleeding and pain from irritated skin.
- Messy flaking of the scalp and the unsightly cosmetic appearance of the skin and nails can be a source of acute embarrassment, self-consciousness and frustration. Long-term psychological distress can lead to anxiety and depression.
- Up to 1 in 4 people with psoriasis develop an associated arthritis with joint pain, early morning stiffness and painful inflammation of the fingers or toes. This ‘psoriatic arthritis’ is progressive and, if left untreated, ultimately results in deformity.
- People with psoriasis are also at increased risk of a number of other health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, heart attack, inflammatory bowel disease, and certain types of cancer.
- For mild psoriasis, especially where it affects relatively small areas of the skin, topical therapies include corticosteroids, vitamin D-based treatments (e.g. calcipotriol), coal tar preparations and retinoids.
- A topical combination product of corticosteroid plus calcipotriol is particularly useful. It is more effective, with fewer side effects than single ingredient products. This combination has been shown in clinical studies to be rapidly and consistently effective and it significantly improves quality of life for patients with psoriasis.
- A combination gel is available for use on the scalp. It only needs to be applied once a day for the duration of treatment prescribed by the doctor.
- Support for people with psoriasis in South Africa is available through the South African Psoriasis Association. Contact Sr Judy Wallace (chairperson) on 021 556 1141 or visit www.psoriasis.org.za. For more information.