Psoriasis, a diagnosis…

Did you know that Kim Kardashian and I actually have something in common and it’s the size of our bottoms? She shared recently that she has psoriasis and talked about using tanning products and skincare that helps her to cover it up. It was quite refreshing to hear someone as glamorous as her talk about skin issues that are very common but still hard to talk about.

Psoriasis is painful, unsightly, hard to manage, related to your health, and can hammer your self confidence.

I know this, because it is something I have lived with for a large part of my life.

When I was 12, as I hit puberty, I developed what felt like severe dandruff/scaly skin on my scalp in patches. Initially it was thought to be a fungal infection, and I was told to use fungcidal cream on it. It didn’t look nice, and I strongly objected to having greasy hair smotthered in anti fungal cream. It was a few patches on my scalp that I mostly ignored, they came and went and were mostly hidden by my hair. When I was a student living in London, it started to get worse, and began to creep down my neck and behind my ears. I tried a few over the counter potions and lotions, and eventually went to my GP who diagnosed it as “mild dermatitis” and told me again to use a cream, I think a steroid based one at the time, but I can’t remember.

It came and went, but never really went away and sometimes it was very hard to manage, with scales and what felt like chunks of my scalp peeling off and scabs of skin.

When the husband and I got married, we went on honeymoon to South Africa, and I got a fair bit of sun on my skin, including my scalp. It seemed to help to clear up my skin a little and it made me think again that I really needed to work out what I had going on and treat it.

I managed to get my GP to refer me to a dermatologist, who took one look and pronounced “psoriasis”. When I told him it had been diagnosed as first a fungal issue then dermatitis, he wasn’t surprised but was a bit shocked that I had basically sat on it for most of my teen and adult life.

Image source WebMD

The NHS website says:

People with psoriasis have an increased production of skin cells.

Skin cells are normally made and replaced every 3 to 4 weeks, but in psoriasis this process only takes about 3 to 7 days. The resulting build-up of skin cells is what creates the patches associated with psoriasis.

Although the process isn’t fully understood, it’s thought to be related to a problem with the immune system. The immune system is your body’s defence against disease and infection, but for people with psoriasis, it attacks healthy skin cells by mistake.

Psoriasis can run in families, although the exact role genetics plays in causing psoriasis is unclear.

Many people’s psoriasis symptoms start or become worse because of a certain event, known as a “trigger”. Possible triggers of psoriasis include an injury to your skin, throat infections and using certain medicines.

The condition isn’t contagious, so it can’t be spread from person to person.

It was really good to know what I actually had.

Currently there is no cure for psoriasis. It is linked to our immune systems and I find that when I am very tired and run down (hello British winters, every year) I struggle more. When I have been very ill, I tend to find it harder to manage it. Oddly enough during pregnancy and breastfeeding, my immune system seems to go into a sort of remission, which is the only time I have ever had periods where my scalp and skin have been totally clear.

I manage my skin day to day with things that I have learned work for me, mainly via trial and error and research. I find that not washing my hair too often helps, as well as using certain shampoos and scalp treatments. I also do find that trying to stay as healthy as possible helps, although that isn’t always the case. Stress can bring on a bad flare, and also if I have have had to take antibiotics.

When it is at it’s worst, you can see it clearly on my scalp and I struggle with what looks likes very bad dandruff, and small areas of my hair can fall out. Thankfully that is now rarer, but it was hard to manage when I was younger.

It’s unpleasant, it can be very sore and uncomfortable, it can become infected and it can be very unsightly. The emotional side effects of having psoriasis are as hard to manage as the physical ones. People don’t understand that it isn’t infectious and can be very judgmental. I have also dealt with a lot of not so helpful advice from non medical sources on how to treat it.  I have tried stronger medically prescribed treatments like methotrexate, which have helped but that do have complicated side effects.

For now, I manage it part holistically and part medically. It seems to work for me. As I have got older, I have learned to cope with it, and manage it better.

Living with psoriasis is a life long thing. It doesn’t go away. A correct diagnosis and support from a dermatologist or skin specialist is helpful, and learning what works and what doesn’t to keep it under control.

*Always seek qualified medical advice for skin issues, before you treat them*

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