Psoriasis causes and treatment

Doctors and scientists don't know exactly what causes psoriasis. But they do know that one type of immune system cells, known as T cells, plays a role. In psoriasis, something tells certain T cells to move to the skin and behave as though they are fighting an infection. This leads to excessive inflammation (redness and irritation) and skin cell shedding. The excess skin cells form a dead, scaly layer called a plaque on top of the psoriasis lesion. All of these factors contribute to the symptoms of psoriasis. Psoriasis is also at least partly genetic, as about one third of people who have it have another family member with psoriasis.

There are many different types of psoriasis treatment, but many treatments work in a similar way: by reducing the activity of the immune system. This decreases symptoms by fighting inflammation and skin cell overgrowth.

The choice of treatment for psoriasis depends on the type and severity of the psoriasis, where the psoriasis is found on the body, the person's general health, and other medications the person may be taking. The main psoriasis treatments are:

  • Topical medications: These medications are applied to the skin areas affected by psoriasis. These treatments are used for mild to moderate cases of psoriasis, or in combination with other treatment options.
  • Systemic medications: This group includes medications taken by mouth (oral medications) and by injection (injectable medications). Injectable medications may be biologics or non-biologics (such as methotrexate injections).
  • Phototherapy: This treatment uses ultraviolet light to reduce psoriasis symptoms. It is used for moderate to severe cases of psoriasis.
  • Biologics: These are injectable medications that are used for moderate to severe cases of psoriasis.

Find out more about how each treatment type works in the following sections on topical treatments, phototherapy and oral medications, and biologics.

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