Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease appearing on skin. The immune system sends out signals against the body's own tissues, speeding up growth of skin cells. Psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease in the United States, afflicting 7.5 million people. It can affect any part of the body. Its often linked to other serious health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
About one-third of people with psoriasis have a family member with the disease. Scientists believe that at least 10 percent of the population inherit one or more of the genes that create the tendency to develop psoriasis, but only 2 to 3 percent of the population develop the disease. It is believed that to develop psoriasis a person must have a combination of the genes and exposure to environmental triggers. Known triggers include:
Stress: Can cause the disease to appear for the first time or aggravate existing psoriasis. Relaxation and stress reduction may help prevent stress from affecting the disease.
Injury or trauma to skin: Vaccinations, sunburn, and scratches are known to trigger a psoriatic response. Early treatment can minimize such a response.
Medications: Some are known to trigger psoriasis. Lithium, which is used to treat bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders, aggravates psoriasis in about half of people with psoriasis who take it. Antimalarials, such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, may cause a flare of psoriasis, usually 2 to 3 weeks after the drug is taken. Inderal, used primarily for high blood pressure, will worsen psoriasis in 25 to 30 percent of people with psoriasis who take it. It isnt known if other medications in the same class (beta blockers) have the same effect, but they may have the potential for a similar reaction. Quinidine, a heart medication, has been reported to aggravate psoriasis. Indomethacin, used to treat arthritis, may worsen psoriasis.
Infection, particularly with streptococcus (the bacteria which causes strep throat) can be a trigger. It is often associated with the first onset of guttate psoriasis in children. Some people with psoriasis report that allergies, diet, and weather trigger their disease.
Age spots are caused primarily by years of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Commercial tanning lamps and beds also damage the skin. Melanin is the pigment in the upper layer of skin (epidermis), which gives skin its normal color. UV light speeds up the production of melanin, causing a tan, which protects the deeper layers of skin from UV light. Age spots are formed when the melanin clumps or is, in some areas, in particularly high concentration. Just getting older can also speed up production of melanin, even without sun exposure. There may be some genetic effect, with some people more susceptible than others to forming age spots. Fair-skinned people are more prone to forming age spots than are people with a naturally darker skin. There is also increased risk with a history of exceptionally intense and frequent sun exposure.
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