Saturday, January 9, 2010

Treatment Options for Psoriasis

What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition involving the accumulation of large patches of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. The most common complaints associated with psoriasis are pain, discomfort, unsightly skin patches and, in severe cases, movement difficulties.

Whereas normal skin cells mature and shed about once a month, psoriasis causes the body to shed skin cells in some areas every three to four days. This creates a build up of old skin cells that irritate the new skin below and eventually begin to flake off. Affected areas of the skin may be red and scaly (“silvery” scales are common), may appear dry and cracked, and will likely become itchy or painful. The condition is sometimes associated with arthritis and can cause joint pain and stiffness.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation and U.S. National Library of Medicine, the exact cause of psoriasis is not known, although the condition appears to be passed down through families. Psoriasis is assumed to be an immune system disorder and several factors seem to trigger outbreaks, including infections, damage to the skin, changing seasons, stress, prescription medications and the use of tobacco or alcohol.

Psoriasis is not only a cosmetic condition. This disease carries with it some significant psychological and emotional effects as well. People with psoriasis often suffer from a negative self-image and believe that they are treated differently from others because of their appearance. They may tend to avoid social situations and recreational activities due to fear of rejection. Because psoriasis seems to be worsened by stress, and having psoriasis is stressful in and of itself, a vicious cycle can be created that perpetuates both the psychological effects of the condition and the severity of the condition.

Can It Be Treated?

For years, dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons have struggled to find ways to cure psoriasis. Unfortunately, a cure is still not available. With the help of cutting-edge treatment options, though, psoriasis can certainly be managed. However, what works for one patient will not necessarily work for another. So it’s important to approach treatment with an open mind, realistic expectations and the patience to try multiple approaches until your doctor finds the right method to treat your condition.

Treatment options for psoriasis include topical creams, behavioral modifications, dietary changes and medications. Your doctor will likely recommend a combination of several therapies in order to maximize your benefit. Still, until recently, no single treatment or combination therapy has been able to completely stop symptoms from occurring.

However, new laser technologies have even enabled doctors to eliminate the symptoms of psoriasis completely (albeit temporarily), relieving the pain, discomfort and cosmetic effects associated with the condition for an extended period of time. For the first time, psoriasis patients have the potential to be able to live essentially symptom-free for a stretch of several months.

What Are the Benefits of Laser Treatment?

Laser treatment is showing excellent results. In fact, the National Psoriasis Foundation cites anecdotal evidence of patients achieving total freedom from their psoriasis for up to eight months after treatment, but admits that little long-term data is available and that results will vary. Because a small, targeted light beam is used, only the affected skin is treated—surrounding tissue is left unharmed. This helps speed the healing process and keep discomfort to a minimum. In most cases, laser treatment yields results more quickly than topical medications and the results are often much more dramatic.

What Are the Risks?

All medical procedures come with some degree of risk and laser psoriasis treatment is no exception. Laser treatments are generally associated with minimal risk although adverse effects are sometimes reported. The most common side effects are redness and blistering at the treated sites.

Of course, there is always the chance that the treatment will not yield the dramatic results you may be hoping for. Because psoriasis is a chronic condition, you can expect it to return eventually. Your results may be relatively long-lasting after laser treatment, but there is a possibility that your condition will worsen again shortly after your procedure. Laser treatment is most effective on those patients with mild to moderate psoriasis. Those with more severe symptoms will likely see an improvement in, but not the complete elimination of, their psoriasis.

The Bottom Line

No one should have to suffer the physical pain and psychological effects of psoriasis when such effective treatment methods are available. Management of your condition may be the only thing standing in the way of you and the healthy, happy, socially active lifestyle you dream of.

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