Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious autoimmune disease that affects the skin and joints. It commonly causes red, scaly patches to appear on the skin. The scaly patches caused by psoriasis, called psoriatic plaques, are areas of inflammation and excessive skin production. Skin rapidly accumulates at these sites and takes on a silvery-white appearance. Plaques frequently occur on the skin of the elbows and knees, but can affect any area including the scalp and genitals. In contrast to eczema, psoriasis is more likely to be found on the extensor aspect of the joint.
The disorder is a chronic recurring condition that varies in severity from minor localized patches to complete body coverage. Fingernails and toenails are frequently affected (psoriatic nail dystrophy) and can be seen as an isolated finding. Psoriasis can also cause inflammation of the joints, which is known as psoriatic arthritis. Ten to fifteen percent of people with psoriasis have psoriatic arthritis.
The cause of psoriasis is not known, but it is believed to have a genetic component. Factors that may aggravate psoriasis include stress, withdrawal of systemic corticosteroid, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. There are many treatments available, but because of its chronic recurrent nature psoriasis is a challenge to treat.
Psoriasis probably one of the longest known illnesses of humans and simultaneously one of the most misunderstood. Some scholars believe psoriasis to have been included among the skin conditions called tzaraat in the Bible. In more recent times psoriasis was frequently described as a variety of leprosy. The Greeks used the term lepra (λεπρα) for scaly skin conditions. They used the term psora to describe itchy skin conditions. It became known as ''Willan's lepra'' in the late 18th century when English dermatologists Robert Willan and Thomas Bateman differentiated it from other skin diseases. Leprosy, they said, is distinguished by the regular, circular form of patches, while psoriasis is always irregular. Willan identified two categories: ''leprosa graecorum'' and ''psora leprosa''.
While it may have been visually, and later semantically, confused with leprosy, it was not until 1841 that the condition was finally given the name ''psoriasis'' by the Viennese dermatologist Ferdinand von Hebra. The name is derived from the Greek word ''psora'' which means ''to itch''.
It was during the 20th century that psoriasis was further differentiated into specific types.
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Last Updated: Oct 6, 2013