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6 Things You Never Knew About Psoriasis

If you have psoriasis—a skin disorder that causes red, itchy, scaly skin and swollen, stiff joints—you may think you have all the psoriasis information you need. But you might not know all there is to know about the condition: Dermatologists say that the 2% of the population who suffers from psoriasis could still learn a thing or two about it.

Luckily, armed with the right psoriasis information, you could greatly improve your symptoms and find relief from the physical and emotional stress that comes from having the skin condition.

Below, dermatologists share six pieces of psoriasis information you might not have.

Psoriasis is not contagious.

Because psoriasis can often look like a rash, many people fear they can spread it to others. But rest easy: Psoriasis is not contagious. The condition is caused by an overactive immune system, so it can’t be spread by human contact, explains Alexandra Golant, M.D., medical director of the dermatology faculty practice at Mount Sinai and member of the National Psoriasis Foundation.

If you’ve been resisting physical contact for fear of infecting people, fear not—and hug on.

Psoriasis can lead to arthritis.

People who suffer from long-term or severe psoriasis may eventually develop arthritis. That’s why it’s important to recognize the early signs and symptoms of psoriatic arthritis—such as dull aches in your joints, swelling in your knees, hips, or fingers, and eye redness—and seek treatment, says Erin Boh, M.D., chair of the department of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine and member of the National Psoriasis Foundation. If you get help and start treatment soon after your symptoms develop, you can mitigate the damage to your joints, Boh says.

Other infections can trigger a psoriasis outbreak.

Psoriasis goes through cycles: It flares up for a bit, then retreats for weeks or even months. But one thing that can bring it back is having an infection. Two common infectious triggers include streptococcal and staphylococcus infections, says Golant. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid these flare-ups—unless you’ve figured out how to never get sick! But if you get an infection, you can proactively treat psoriasis, by adding extra moisturizer and avoiding dry, cold weather.

Severe, untreated psoriasis could actually shorten your lifespan.

If you’ve only thought of your psoriasis as an itchy inconvenience, think again. Left untreated, severe psoriasis could lead to artery-blocking cholesterol plaques, and “blockage of arteries can result in heart attacks,” Boh warns. In fact, people with psoriasis have a three times greater risk of experiencing a heart attack. So do what you can to protect your heart: Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, reduce your stress—and see a dermatologist for treatment of your psoriasis.

UV light can improve psoriasis symptoms.

In addition to getting your daily dose of vitamin D, spending a little time in the sun can improve your psoriasis symptoms, says Golant. “UV light has anti-inflammatory effects and is a very old treatment for many dermatoses,” she explains. However, don’t take this as a green light to spend hours of unprotected time in the sun. Excess sun exposure and sunburn can make your psoriasis symptoms worse. A few minutes is all you need—or ask your dermatologist if she offers an in-office UV light treatment. That way you minimize your risk and get safe, sunburn-free results.

Psoriasis can be cleared.

If you’ve lived with red, itchy skin, you may think there’s no hope on the horizon. But Boh says that dermatologists have many treatment options for psoriasis—including topical, oral, and injected medications—and your treatment plan can be tailored to your lifestyle and individual needs. Once you and your dermatologist have found the right treatment plan, you “can be totally clear,” she says. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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