Harvard Women's Health Watch

Bringing psoriasis under control

Treatment can improve the quality of life for people who have this common disorder.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition characterized by thick, raised red patches that are often covered with flaking, silvery scales. Although rarely life-threatening, it can dramatically affect a person's life. In his essay "At War with My Skin," the novelist John Updike, who developed psoriasis as a child, attributed his career choice to the isolating effects of the disease: "Because of my skin," he wrote, "I counted myself out of any of those jobs...that demand being presentable. What did that leave? Becoming a craftsman of some kind, closeted and unseen — perhaps a cartoonist or a writer, a worker in ink who can hide himself and send out a surrogate presence..."

Psoriasis can develop at any age and occurs in all races, but it is most likely to affect Caucasians and appear in early adulthood or at midlife. In the United States, seven to eight million people have some form of psoriasis. Although the condition affects both sexes equally, research suggests that it can cause more distress and embarrassment for women than for men. Psoriasis is a lifelong condition, although it may go in and out of remission. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how extensively it affects a person's body and quality of life.

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