Psoriasis Causes & Risk Factors

Published: February 5, 2012

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What Are the Causes?

The causes of psoriasis are not completely understood. Flare-ups are relatively unpredictable, and there are no known environmental factors that trigger rashes. Once you have your first outbreak, you are likely to develop another. Most people will experience their first flare-ups as adolescents or young adults.

The disorder is believed to be an autoimmune condition that is influenced by a genetic predisposition. Some believe that psoriasis occurs when skin cells grow too much and too quickly. Others believe that symptoms occur when T cells, the cells that fight infections, move to the middle skin layer and release the cells that are responsible for causing inflammation.

Normal has two layers: the inner dermis and the outer epidermis. Skin cells are continuously replaced. It usually takes a month for old skin cells to shed and become replaced with new ones.

When skin cells reproduce too quickly, the dead cells with continue to build on the skin, creating thick and flaky patches that are also known as plaques. The skin will turn red because of the increased blood supply to the skin that is reproducing too quickly.

It is impossible to predict whether and when an outbreak will occur. Certain environmental, dietary, and behavioral factors can cause psoriasis outbreaks. Many people with psoriasis will experience flare-ups while undergoing periods of extreme stress. Others will develop psoriasis after too much or too little sun exposure.

Medications such as lithium salts and beta blockers can also trigger instances of the disease. Smoking, diabetes, hairspray, face creams, and lotions, and alcohol can put you at greater risk of developing an outbreak. Dry skin tends to cause more outbreaks than oily or moisturized skin.

For most psoriasis, outbreaks are recurring. They may not occur at regular intervals; however, they will repeatedly affect the same area. Chances are, if you have experienced a psoriasis outbreak, then you will experience another.

Psoriasis is not contagious by touch or through environmental factors. You will not spread or develop a rash from skin-to-skin or other physical contact. Many patients, especially children, have trouble understanding this fact. Even when the psoriasis rash is severe, the condition is not contagious.

Many people with psoriasis will experience an accompanying condition called psoriatic arthritis. This type of arthritis ranges from mild to severe and may affect one or multiple joints including the skin, fingers, and toes. In the majority of situations, people will develop the psoriasis before the arthritis. The precise cause of psoriatic arthritis is unknown, but studies show that people with psoriasis have a higher risk of developing arthritis.

Who's at Risk?

People with a family history of psoriasis are most at risk. If your parents have psoriasis, you are likely to start developing symptoms as well. In any case, unless you have already experienced a flare-up, it is impossible to determine whether you will develop psoriasis, even if your parents do have the condition.

There is no blood test or skin test available to confirm whether psoriasis is present in your system. No genetic screening test can indicate whether or not you'll start developing symptoms. For the most part, doctors diagnose the condition visually.

If you've already begun to experience outbreaks, it's important that you pay special attention to what might be influencing the cause. Document whether you're eating certain foods, drinking alcohol, or experiencing stress before or during an outbreak. Determine whether certain environmental conditions cause your outbreaks to last longer. If you identify patterns, you might have a better idea of what's causing your outbreaks, and you may be able to prevent outbreaks more effectively.

People with certain autoimmune disorders are at risk for developing psoriasis that is difficult to treat. These conditions include AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.

Other risk factors include stress, medications, obesity, and medical history. Stress affects the immune system, so heightened stress levels can cause outbreaks to occur. When a person is overweight, the skin and folds have a larger surface area, creating more room for lesion growth. It is believed that smoking can cause the disease to develop. In any case, smokers tend to experience more severe outbreaks. Your psoriasis might even be seasonal or related to certain weather conditions. Each patient is different and will see symptoms that appear suddenly or slowly.

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