'Not just a skin disorder': Five common myths about psoriasis everyone needs to know

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Shot of a young woman having a consultation with her doctor.
Shot of a young woman having a consultation with her doctor.

Psoriasis affects approximately 3% of the population in South Africa.

It is characterised by thick, red patches of skin, covered with white or silvery scales. The skin lesions can cause significant discomfort, including itching, burning, bleeding and pain from irritation.

“Psoriasis is not just a skin disorder. Like other chronic diseases, psoriasis can cause profound physical, emotional and social distress,” says specialist dermatologist Dr Lushen Pillay. “Discomfort and disfigurement make severe psoriasis a disabling disease.”

The unsightly lesions and bleeding are a cause of considerable embarrassment, shame and reduced self-esteem, so patients might avoid going out and exclude themselves from social gatherings.

Psoriasis is commonly associated with depression, and there is a lot of ignorance and misinformation about the disease, causing patients to feel isolated, excluded and stigmatised. They may stay home from work and school. In some communities, psoriasis may be regarded as a ‘curse’ or sign of evil.

With World Psoriasis Day coming up on 29 October, let’s debunk some of the most common myths about psoriasis.

1. Myth: Psoriasis is just a skin condition

Fact: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that can affect the entire body

It is linked to a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke. Having severe psoriasis also increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 46%, and people with psoriasis are also more at risk for obesity, cancer, and Crohn's disease.

2. Myth: Psoriasis is contagious

Fact: Psoriasis is an inherited condition and is not contagious

The genetic basis for psoriasis means that it is passed on within families. Children have an approximately 14% risk of developing psoriasis if one parent has the disease and a 44% risk if both parents suffer from psoriasis. 

“People are often afraid that the condition is contagious and avoid getting too close to someone with psoriasis,” says Dr Pillay.

“Researchers are still trying to figure out the other reasons people get psoriasis, but they do know one thing, you cannot catch it from someone else.”

3. Myth: Medication is enough to manage psoriasis

Fact: Psoriasis treatment should include both medication and healthy lifestyle changes

The most important environmental risk factors are stress, alcohol consumption and smoking, and others include consumption of red meat and being overweight.

Read: Five of our favourite home workout videos for kids

Exercise and weight loss can help improve psoriasis and your overall health. Following a heart-healthy diet, one that includes lean skinless protein, and low-fat dairy, and limiting your alcohol intake can help protect your skin and your heart.

4. Myth: Psoriasis doesn’t affect mental health

Fact: People with psoriasis are at risk for depression

“Psoriasis boosts the risk for both depression and anxiety,” says Dr Pillay. ”Emotional stress is a major trigger of psoriasis symptoms, so even without depression, do your best to manage stress and emotions with regular exercise, relaxation, and plenty of support.”

5. Myth: If psoriasis treatment doesn’t work immediately, try something new

Fact: Psoriasis treatments often take time to work

If you don’t see improvement in your skin right after starting a new psoriasis treatment, don’t give up. It can take several weeks for psoriasis medications to take full effect. People with psoriasis often hear from friends and even strangers suggesting treatments or diets that worked for someone else with psoriasis.

It’s also important to know that what works for some people may not work for others. It may take patience to find the right therapies, but the good news is that there's probably something to help everyone.

“Combination products are available for use on the skin and need only be applied once daily,” says Dr Pillay.

“Treatments that combine calcipotriol and the anti-inflammatory quality of corticosteroid and are more effective than either ingredient alone. They are odourless and do not stain clothing, and because they are quick and easy to use, people are more likely to keep using the treatment.”

Ask your GP or dermatologist for more information. 

Submitted to Parent24 by Adcock Ingram

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