A disease that manifests in inflamed scales on the largest organ of the body: the skin, psoriasis is highly a visible, yet still mysterious disease.
“Funding for psoriasis by the federal government is not on par with other diseases.
It’s one of the most prevalent diseases, yet compared to other conditions it hasn’t received the recognition,” said Catie Coman, director of communications at the Portland-based National Psoriasis Foundation.
Aiming to join ranks with cancer, heart disease and other ailments, psoriasis has it own month of awareness in August.
The auto-immune condition can appear anywhere on the body.
According to the foundation, the cause of psoriasis remains unknown, however, in affected patients the immune system is somehow mistakenly triggered which speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells.
“There are environmental triggers, it can be affected by stress,” Coman said.
For some sufferers, the disease triggers its own psychological symptoms, including depression.
“The social stigmas are often hard for our patients,” Dr. John Young, dermatologist at Salem’s Silver Falls Dermatology, said.
Young had one female patient come to him in a suicidal state, stating that she would kill herself in two weeks if they couldn’t help her.
“That was hard because she put her life his [Dr. Young] hands,” Joe Vanderbroork, CEO of Silver Falls Dermatology, said.
Coman explained that as many as 57 percent of moderate to severe cases don’t receive treatment or are under-treated.
“This may be due to mis-diagnosis or because many dermatologists don’t focus on medical dermatology, but cosmetic,” she said.
Psoriasis is an often painful condition that cause severe flaking of skin.
“It can also affect joints and tendons,” Dr. Marcus Goodman, another dermatologist in the Silver Falls practice, said.
Also an inflammatory disease, patients may concurrently experience psoratic arthritis.
The majority of patients suffer from the plaque form of the disease although there are four other types.
Treatment ranges as well, from biologic drugs and phototherapy to topical creams and alternative treatments such as acupuncture or dietary supplements.
Protein-based injections are used along with new laser treatments in many practices.
“There is very little discomfort and our patients usually see significant improvement in four months,” Dr. Young said.
Depending on how thick the affected area is and what other treatment is being used, Young and Goodman’s patients come in twice a week for phototherapy.
The only clinic in the mid-valley with laser treatments available, Young and his colleagues having been using the new equipment on patients for the past four months, usually with positive results. Their suicidal patient included.
“There are very few that we can’t help,” Dr. Young said.
One machine, resembling a salon nail dryer, is used for those with affected hands and feet.
Directed laser treatment is used for harder-to-reach areas like the inside of ears or on the scalp.
A larger, broader-spectrum ‘body box’, which is similar in appearance to a spray tan booth, is used for patients who have larger patches of affected skin.
One size doesn’t fit all for most patients, so combination therapy is often employed
“We mix and match therapies,” Dr. Goodman said.
Vitamin A and D are administered topically and orally to some patients to holistically aid in their treatment.
Psoriasis patients also have an increased risk of developing other serious diseases, according to the foundation, such as psoriatic arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression, which typically need additional treatment.
“There is no evidence the co-morbid diseases are preventable with psoriasis treatments. It’s about taking take of yourself,” Coman said.