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We look at the causes, symptoms and available treatments for the skin condition psoriasis

specialist examining a patients skin condition using medical microscope
Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disease that causes red and flaky areas to appear on your skin. These are often covered in silvery scales.

Psoriasis is most commonly found on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. It can be very itchy and painful.

Psoriasis is caused by a speeding up of the natural process that produces skin cells.

Skin cells are normally produced deep in the skin. Over time, they move slowly to the surface of the skin, where they eventually fall off and are replaced by new skin cells. This process of skin cell replacement normally takes around 3-4 weeks.

Somebody with psoriasis has an accelerated skin production process, taking it down from 3-4 weeks to 3-7 days.

With such a shortened production time, the cells on the surface of the skin no longer have adequate time to fall off naturally, so more and more skin cells end up accumulating on the skin. As more skin cells build up, it leads to the formation of the red, flaky and crusty plaques that characterise psoriasis.

The most common symptom of psoriasis is red, flaky skin that is generally itchy and uncomfortable. This is most commonly found on your:

  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Scalp
  • Lower back

However, these are not the only places that can be affected. Psoriasis can develop anywhere on any part of your body.

Psoriasis is often itchy and inflamed and can be painful. It generally affects the skin, but can also cause pain and swelling in your joints. This is called psoriatic arthritis.

For many people, psoriasis is a difficult condition to live with for reasons beyond the redness and itching. It can be quite a visible condition, which can affect your mental health. We spoke to Dr Sarah Woodrow, a consultant dermatologist at our Bath Clinic, to find out more about the psychological impact of psoriasis.

“Psoriasis can affect both covered and uncovered areas of the skin, and it can be the visibility of the condition that most troubles people,” explains Dr Woodrow. “For example, people might be troubled by facial psoriasis, dandruff falling off on dark clothing, or psoriasis of the hands – especially if people have public-facing jobs. It can affect everything from clothing choices to the activities people take part in (they may avoid swimming, for example).

People may be embarrassed and find it takes its toll on relationships, whether at work or in their personal life. Even simple things like choosing a holiday can be made complicated by how people feel about their visible psoriasis.”

The wide-reaching impact of psoriasis makes it so important to get expert help from an experienced consultant, who will be able to talk with you about your concerns and work with you to tailor treatment to your specific needs and preferences. You are not alone. Our experienced skin specialists are here to help you. 

In the UK, it is thought that about 2% of the population are affected by psoriasis.1

Symptoms can start at any age, but it's more common in adults under 35 years. Men and women are affected equally.

Psoriasis varies in its severity. Most people will experience periods with no symptoms, or only mild ones, followed by a flare-up.

Our understanding of the condition is not currently complete, but it is thought that it may be linked to the immune system. Research is being done all the time, and our consultants at Circle Health Group can discuss the latest research and treatments with you during your consultation.

Psoriasis is a genetic condition and therefore cannot be cured. Still, although there is no cure for psoriasis, there are many treatments available that can help.

Most people are able to find a treatment that manages their symptoms, meaning they’re able to enjoy life again without worrying about the distressing side effects of psoriasis.

Treatment for psoriasis aims to improve your quality of life by reducing your symptoms as much as possible.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treatment for psoriasis, and the best way of getting a tailored approach to treatment is through a consultation with a dermatologist.

While a GP or other healthcare professional may be able to offer you some initial guidance and advice, a Consultant Dermatologist will always be the best person to see for help with psoriasis – or any skin condition – because they have specialist training and are highly experienced in treating this problem.

When you book a consultation with Circle Health Group, your specialist will spend the first appointment getting to know you, so that they can build a tailored treatment plan specific to you. This is a collaborative process between you and your consultant, and they will discuss with you the things you would like to achieve and be able to go back to doing in daily life again.

For some people, this may be the opportunity to wear make-up again. Others will want to be able to wear dark clothing again without worrying about embarrassing skin scales being visible. Maybe you’re looking for a reduction in itchiness or pain.

There may be some trial and error when it comes to your treatment plan, and perhaps you’ll have a mix of different treatment types, for example you might have a course of light therapy alongside a prescription for a topical cream. Your consultant will discuss all the options with you, and together you can make an informed decision.

It’s always best to get treatment for your psoriasis.

“When left untreated, psoriasis can become widespread and painful,” explains Dr Woodrow. “Most people find the severity and extent of psoriasis will wax and wane over time. This can be influenced by several factors including infections, stress, medications and exposure to sunshine." 

“Importantly, psoriasis can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. The condition can impact day-to-day activities around the home (for example increased cleaning as a consequence of psoriasis or its treatments) as well as affecting your work life, leisure activities and your relationships with loved ones.”

If you have psoriasis, or think you may have psoriasis but aren’t completely certain, why not book a private consultation with a Circle Health Group dermatologist? They will help you to get clarity about the best way forward.

Psoriasis can have a big impact on your self-esteem, confidence and enjoyment of life. In its milder form it is usually frustrating, but in more severe cases it may be debilitating, embarrassing and painful.

By getting an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible, a suitable treatment plan can be arranged and started, giving you relief from your symptoms.

If you would like to talk to one of our consultants, it is very easy to book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you. We have the largest network of private hospitals in the UK, making it easy to book a visit close to home. With thousands of specialists available across the country providing expert assessment, diagnosis and treatment, you will be extremely well looked after every step of the way.

Book an appointment online today, or give our friendly team a call on 0141 300 5009, and you could be meeting with a consultant dermatologist in a matter of days.

We look forward to helping you get the support you need to successfully treat your psoriasis and to get back to a better quality of life once more.

References and further reading

1Psoriasis: assessment and management, NICE

Content reviewed by Professor John Thomas Lear in July 2022. Next review due July 2025.

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