5 questions to ask your doctor about psoriasis
Most people who suffer from psoriasis typically experience red or scaly white patches that are prone to crack, bleed or itch on their elbows, knees or scalp. But dermatologist Burrell Wolk says psoriasis is more than skin deep. “It not only involves the skin and nails, but sometimes involves mucous membranes,” says the medical director at highly rated Skin and Cancer Center of Arizona.
People with psoriasis are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, depression and other serious conditions like heart attacks, strokes, Crohn’s disease and high blood pressure, says Andrew Robertson, chief science and medical officer at the National Psoriasis Foundation. Up to 30 percent of psoriasis sufferers develop psoriasis arthritis, which causes pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints and tendons, he says.
To understand how psoriasis can affect you or a loved one, ask your doctor these questions.
1. How do you get psoriasis?
“It’s in the genes,” Wolk says. “Physicians always ask about family history because psoriasis runs in families,” he says, noting that 35 percent of psoriasis patients have a family history of the disease. Wolk says psoriasis can be triggered in genetically susceptible individuals by a streptococcal or upper respiratory infection, physical trauma or emotional stress.
2. How do I know if I have psoriasis?
Of the five types of psoriasis, plaque psoriasis is the most common, Robertson says. It appears as raised, red patches covered with a silvery white buildup of dead skin cells or scales, and most often appears on the scalp, knees, elbows and lower back. But psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body. Consult a doctor if you suspect you have the disease.
3. Is there a cure for psoriasis?
Currently, there is no cure, but there are newer and more effective treatments with fewer side effects, Robertson says. Treatments can vary from topical ointments to prescription drugs taken orally or via injections, depending on the type and severity of the psoriasis, and its location. “What works for someone may not work for another person,” he says.
4. Are there effective non-pharmaceutical treatments to control psoriasis?
Wolk says studies show 80 percent of psoriasis patients who get regular, brief amounts of sunlight see improvement. But a sunburn can worsen psoriasis. For a localized or mild form of the disease, unscented aloe vera or oil oatmeal baths may ease itching and soothe skin, while tea tree oil may relieve psoriasis of the scalp. Fish oil, shark cartilage, evening primrose oil, milk thistle, vitamin D, and oregano oil have all been reported to ease psoriasis conditions, but their benefits have yet to be proven, Wolk says. He says patients should consult their doctor before trying any of these options. “Even the most harmless-sounding agent may cause an allergic reaction or interact with conventional treatment,” he says.
5. How much does it cost to diagnose and treat psoriasis?
Wolk says costs for an office visit varies, depending on the complexity of the individual case. The NPF says nearly one-quarter of people spend more than $75 every time they refill a prescription, and copayments for psoriasis treatments, particularly biologics, can be upwards of $500 per month.