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Psoriasis is a common skin condition characterized by a rapid buildup of rough, dry, dead skin cells forming thick scales. The inflammation can be frustrating if you have it, causing unsightly patches of skin, discomfort and even pain.

Normally, it takes about a month for new skin cells to move from the lowest layer of your skin, where they first form, to the outermost layer, where they die and scale off in flakes. In psoriasis, the life cycle of skin cells speeds up, resulting in a multitude of dead cells on the outermost layer of your skin.

Psoriasis is a persistent, chronic disease that tends to flare periodically and may go into remission, but usually remains active for years. Psoriasis can occur at any age, but the onset is usually gradual and the diagnosis is commonly made between the ages of 15 and 35.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of psoriasis may include:

  • Dry, red patches of skin covered with silvery scales

  • Pustules on top of the patches

  • Small scaling dots (guttate psoriasis), which occur most commonly in children

  • Swollen and stiff joints

The signs and symptoms may occur in just a few places on your skin or affect large areas. Psoriasis commonly occurs on your knees, elbows, trunk and scalp. The scales from scalp patches of psoriasis may resemble dandruff. In severe cases, you may also experience cracked skin, minor bleeding, redness of your skin all over or raised bumps containing pus (pustular psoriasis). In some cases, there may be pitting, ridging and discoloration of fingernails and toenails. Psoriasis may also affect the genitalia.

Psoriasis isn't contagious. You can't spread it to other parts of your body, or to other people, simply by touching it.

The condition typically goes through cycles. It may flare for weeks or months, then subside for a time. But it almost always returns. Psoriasis can occur anywhere on your body. It's possible to confuse psoriasis with seborrheic dermatitis, a different common skin condition that's characterized by greasy-appearing, scaling areas.

About 15 percent of people with psoriasis also have signs and symptoms of arthritis. This condition is called psoriatic arthritis. For most people, the effects of psoriatic arthritis are minor. It produces some pain and discomfort in affected joints but has little effect on overall health. Less commonly, the joint symptoms can lead to disability similar to that found in rheumatoid arthritis.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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