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What is Plaque Psoriasis?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Plaque psoriasis is the most commonly diagnosed form of of psoriasis. It causes raised red sores to break out on a person's skin—these inflamed areas, which are sometimes called flakes or plaques, tend to itch and burn. The most common location for outbreaks are the knees and elbows, but they're also fairly common on the scalp and torso. The condition tends to come and go, so it may disappear occasionally for months or even years at a time before returning. Researchers estimate that about 5.5 million people in the United States suffer from the disease, and it affects men and women equally.

The sores in plaque psoriasis are caused by abnormally rapid skin cell replacement. Under normal circumstances, skin cells are replaced every 30 days, but with plaque psoriasis, areas of the skin are replaced much faster. This causes excess skin cells to accumulate, which creates the appearance of raised scales. The underlying reason for this excess growth is an overactive immune system, which triggers the production of too many white blood cells. As part of a normal defensive reaction, these blood cells can cause skin inflammation and also make the skin grow faster than it naturally would.

Most plaque psoriasis sufferers experience their first outbreak in their late teens or early 20s. There are several environmental and behavioral factors that are thought to increase the frequency of outbreaks, including smoking, alcoholism and sun exposure. The length of outbreaks can vary significantly, and sometimes they can take months to clear up. This condition is normally an inherited disorder, so people with a family history have a much greater risk. If someone has a single parent with the disease, the risk is about 15%, while those who have two infected parents have a 50% chance of inheritance.

There is no actual cure for plaque psoriasis, but in some cases, a sufferer may be able to achieve long-term remission. There are several treatments that can sometimes lessen the degree of symptoms, including immune system-suppressing drugs, steroids, topical creams and ointments. The results of different treatment methods can vary quite a lot from one patient to another, so doctors may try several different therapeutic approaches before they find the best fit. Some people have experimented with alternative therapies, including herbal remedies, in cases of plaque psoriasis, but most of these approaches haven’t necessarily been verified by medical science.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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