Healthy Lifestyle

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Various things contribute to psoriasis flare-ups

Skin is the human body's largest organ, spanning roughly 3,000 square inches and weighing about 6 pounds on the average human. Flexible and rugged, skin also is susceptible to damage, and conditions that affect the skin can be visible, embarrassing and troublesome.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition blamed on an improperly functioning immune system. The body may detect a perceived anomaly and attack itself. When a person is suffering from psoriasis, his or her skin cells are produced at an accelerated rate, resulting in red, raised and scaly patches on the skin known as plaques. Plaques are well-defined and typically appear on the scalp, lower back, face, palms, and soles of feet.

About one-third of people with psoriasis have a family member with the disease. Studies show the emotional and social effects of psoriasis are more significant for women than men, but both can be affected negatively by symptoms.

There is no cure for psoriasis, and some people are affected more severely than others. In addition, certain factors can aggravate psoriasis and lead to flare-ups. Understanding these triggers may help those affected by the disease better manage their symptoms. Although some of these triggers are not backed up by firm scientific evidence, many people with psoriasis attest to their accuracy.

* Overexposure to sunlight: Exposure to sunlight and other forms of ultraviolet rays can be beneficial in reducing symptoms of psoriasis, and some dermatologists may even prescribe UV treatment. However, overexposure to the sun can worsen symptoms, particularly if men and women get a sunburn. There is a fine line between what is too much sun and enough sun, which is why those with psoriasis should only undergo UV treatment under the care of a dermatologist.

* Stress: Doctors don't know exactly why, but psoriasis and stress seem to be linked. As stress escalates, flare-ups of psoriasis may become more common. In turn, flare-ups can lead to additional stress. Finding ways to reduce stress may result in clearer skin. Deep breathing, yoga and meditation may help alleviate stress.

* Hot water: Bathing or washing in very hot water can worsen symptoms of psoriasis. Use lukewarm water and a moisturizing soap. Some dermatologists recommend colloidal oatmeal or Epsom salts in a bath to soften skin, relieve itching and help slough off scaly patches. Additionally, avoid situations that will lead to dry skin, such as exposure to hot or cold weather. Use moisturizer and reapply as needed.

* Certain foods: Some people with psoriasis note that certain foods and beverages trigger their flare-ups. Tomato- and pepper-based products and acidic or alcoholic beverages may cause flare-ups.

* Infections: After a bout of strep throat or an ear infection, people with psoriasis may find their condition takes a turn for the worse. Thought doctors don't quite understand why, certain infections and medications to treat those conditions can cause psoriasis to act up. Discuss your psoriasis with your physician before taking any medication.

* Hormones: Women may find that hormonal changes trigger their psoriasis. Research isn't clear as the connection between psoriasis and hormones, but doctors do know that pregnancy and menopause can cause psoriasis to worsen or even appear for the first time. Others find that an increase or decrease in estrogen levels improves their psoriasis symptoms. But symptoms are unique, and psoriasis outbreaks need to be evaluated on a person-to-person basis.

Psoriasis is the most prevalent autoimmune condition in the United States, affecting as many as 7.5 million Americans according to recent studies. Certain behaviors, foods and skin care treatments can affect the severity and frequency of psoriasis flare-ups.