Is Your Plaque Psoriasis Caused by Your Immune System?

May 7th 2016

The discovery in 1979 that plaque psoriasis was actually caused by a malfunction of the immune system has led to new treatments and a new outlook for the disease. In the skin ailment, new skin cells are produced far too rapidly, causing them to pile up on one another until the skin becomes scaly, itchy and irritated. Plaque psoriasis is most likely to occur on the scalp, hands and feet, face and in skin folds. While scientists are still exploring the root causes of plaque psoriasis, treatments that target the immune system rather than the symptoms themselves hold great promise.

The Relationship of Plaque Psoriasis to the Immune System

The relationship between plaque psoriasis and the immune system only became clear when patients who had their immune systems depressed to receive bone marrow transplants found that their psoriasis disappeared. Psoriasis occurs when T-cells, white blood cells that are key to fighting infection, become overactive and respond to an immune system threat that isn't really there. As a result, far too many skin cells are produced, blood flow increases and inflammation occurs. Researchers don't yet know what triggers the T-cells to become hyperactive in this manner, but they are aware that some people have a genetic predisposition to plaque psoriasis and that certain medications, climate conditions or other factors likely serve as triggers for psoriasis breakouts.

Triggers for Plaque Psoriasis

Certain medications are common triggers for outbreaks of plaque psoriasis. These include lithium, antimalarial drugs and beta-blockers prescribed for high blood pressure. Stress often triggers psoriasis flare-ups, which can also occur when a cut or scrape becomes infected and the immune system goes into action.

Treatment of Plaque Psoriasis

While most doctors start treatment of plaque psoriasis with topical creams and ointments, these treatments often only affect the symptoms and don't address the root issue of immune system involvement. The topical treatments used on plaque psoriasis include topical corticosteroids, synthetic vitamin D, vitamin A retinoids, coal tar shampoos and salicylic acid. Other treatments of psoriasis include phototherapy, sometimes in conjunction with medications. Severe cases are typically treated with immune-system suppressants such as cyclosporine or methotrexate.

New research on the relationship of plaque psoriasis to the immune system focuses on ways to reduce the immune system's over production of skin cells without affecting the rest of the immune system. As further progress is made, sufferers of plaque psoriasis aren't the only ones likely to benefit, because this research may open doors to understanding other auto-immune diseases and conditions as well.

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