Bursting common myths about psoriasis

Psoriasis is a real disability that affects approximately one million Canadians. A recent Canadian survey found that the causes and effects of this chronic, recurrent skin disorder are often misunderstood - and the result of these misperceptions can leave a lasting negative impact on those who suffer from this debilitating immune system disease.

"People with psoriasis often feel that the general public doesn't understand their condition and worry that people are put off by their appearance," said Dr. Jensen Yeung, dermatologist and Medical Director of the Dermatology Department at Women's College Hospital, University of Toronto. "These feelings can severely impact a person's physical and emotional well-being - not to mention their social confidence."


More than half (58 per cent) of all survey respondents said they find people with skin conditions to be less attractive in general, and of those respondents who were aware of psoriasis (87 per cent), 44 per cent agree they wouldn't want to be served food in a restaurant by someone who had the condition. A further 20 per cent feel people with psoriasis should cover up their skin, and 56 per cent wrongly believe the condition can be cured.

"These misunderstandings can perpetuate hurtful myths - for example, that psoriasis is contagious or that it's caused by poor hygiene," said Dr. Yeung. "Raising awareness about the true facts of psoriasis - and giving this disorder the proper attention it deserves - is extremely important."

The survey was conducted by Angus Reid Strategies on behalf of Amgen Canada and Wyeth Canada, now a part of Pfizer.


Psoriasis is a lifelong chronic skin disorder that can strike at any age. It is not contagious and researchers have found no link between psoriasis and personal hygiene. There is currently no cure.

The exact cause of psoriasis is still unknown, and symptoms range from mild, small patches to severe plaques covering a large percentage of the body. It can affect the head, body, arms, legs, elbows, knees, groin and genitals, palms and the bottoms of feet and appears as red patches of skin, covered with dry, silvery scales.

Contrary to what some people believe, psoriasis is not just a skin disorder. In fact, people with psoriasis are at an increased risk of developing other chronic and serious health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes; however, only 32 per cent of survey respondents realized this.

The condition can also have enormous physical and psychological effects on patients and presents a substantial problem for them in their daily lives. In fact, psoriasis can contribute to poor body image, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, with depression and thoughts of suicide reported in more than five per cent of psoriasis patients. Some people with psoriasis attribute not working or lost work days to their psoriasis, and patients report as much disability as cancer, diabetes and other major medical diseases.

Dermatologists can provide a definitive diagnosis of psoriasis, and the good news is that effective treatment options do exist. These include topical therapies, phototherapy, and systemic therapies taken by pill or injection. For moderate to severe forms of psoriasis, biological therapies that work on the body's immune system are also available and treat the symptoms differently than other medications.


Patients looking for information about psoriasis and/or treatment options should speak to their doctor and visit Psoriasis Connections (www.psoriasisconnections.ca) - a national disease education program that offers Canadians with moderate to severe psoriasis the opportunity to connect with the facts, the experts and other psoriasis suffers.

"I've found Psoriasis Connections to be an excellent resource for me and I believe it could be helpful to the general public too," says Allan Stordy who was diagnosed with psoriasis at the age of 29. "Not only does it provide overall information about psoriasis, but it offers important information about treatment options and how people with the condition can manage their day-to-day lives."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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