In April of 2016, I was diagnosed officially with psoriasis. Having never previously heard of this disease, I have spent the past 8 months reading about it.
I’m blogging to provide a real-time resource to other psoriatic patients, and also to keep track of my own experimentation on what works. A large part of my diet/lifestyle changes in the past 6 months has been in effort to reduce my psoriasis.
To non-psoriatic patients, this may not interest you as much, but given that it’s a disease that can affect anyone at any age, it probably is affecting someone in your life right now. So I hope my posts will give you some beneficial information.
Here is my story:
What the heck is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin disorder in which skin cells multiply much more rapidly than normal. It affects approximately 3% of the US population. Including Kim Kardashian and LeAnn Rimes.
Normal, healthy skin cells take about 30 days to reach from the deepest layers of the skin to the surface (and then flakes away peacefully onto your carpet or bedsheets), psoriatic skin cells go through this process in only a few days – resulting in pissed off, angry cells that aren’t ready to leave your skin which stack on top of each other in a raised, red plaque.
These red plaques are usually covered with white, or silvery scales. They are extremely itchy, and can grow to cover the entire body (!) including scalp, soles of feets and hands, and even the inside of the mouth.
There are multiple types of psoriasis, but I’ll talk mainly about the type that I have – called guttate psoriasis*.
Guttate psoriasis is a form of psoriasis that affects 10% of psoriatic patients. Rather than having large, red plaques like the typical plaque psoriasis, guttate psoriasis appears as small, red dots all over the body. When you think of a severe case, think of adult chicken pox.
My case is considered mild, which means my spots cover less than 3% of my body. As of today’s date, I have 25 spots – spread pretty evenly amongst my limbs. (Although one spot is really large and I think it’s actually plaque psoriasis) Even though right now it’s mild, none of my old spots have disappeared and new ones form regularly, so it could get much worse as time goes on.
On the reddit subforum psoriasis, many users have 80-90% coverage. This means that virtually their entire body is covered.
How does one get psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease. Auto-immune diseases arise when your white blood cells (which normally fight off invasive bacteria) get confused and attack your own healthy cells. In this case, my white blood cells are attacking my skin cells.
Some people carry gene markers that make them more likely to develop psoriasis, because my dad has scalp psoriasis, I guess I have this gene too (I apologize in advance to my potential future children). You can get psoriasis at any age. I got it at age 25, but people can get it in their 30s, 40s, 70s, whatever.
This disease has no cure. However, my dermatologist says that there’s about a 70% chance that once these spots disappear from my body, my psoriasis will go into remission and won’t return*. However, the remaining 30% means that even if this round of spots leave, the condition remains chronic and I’ll continue to have flare-ups for the rest of my life.
How do you get rid of it?
Although there’s no cure, most psoriatic patients aim to reduce their outbreaks and plaques. These plaques are itchy and uncomfortable when they swell up, and it can be really embarrassing to go out in public with them. People have lost jobs and relationships due to psoriasis, and are also at a higher risk of depression.
I can get by with long sleeved clothing and concealer when I wear dresses for now. But for those who have it covering their entire limbs, neck, or face – it’s a lot harder .
There are 3 popular ways to treat psoriasis from the doctor:
1. Topical ointments (these are applied to your plaques to reduce swelling and peeling)
2. Light therapy using UVB or UVA lights (this is a light box that scans your entire body and is administered by the nurses to halt and reverse the plaques)
3. Oral medication
For the past year, I have been using various topical ointments on my psoriasis. While they do help, they treat the symptoms – not the cause. Also, long term usage can cause thinning skin. I have asked my dermatologist to put me on light therapy, and will be starting that in February.
Light therapy treatments are intensive and I’ll be going in 3x a week for 30 sessions. Each session is short, but the commute time for me will make each trip about an hour. It’ll take a large chunk of time out from my day, but luckily in Canada the cost of it is covered so I’m grateful for that. I’ve read on online forums, that some US patients cannot afford light therapy treatments, and that’s sad.
How are you handling it emotionally?
Well, thank you for asking, that’s very considerate of you.
Psoriasis is like a roommate I can’t get rid of. Sometimes I can live with it in harmony, while begrudingly acknowledging its unwanted presence. During those times, I only think of it when it’s time to apply the treatment creams. Life continues as normal, after all, most people aren’t even aware that I have it.
However, other times, especially during a flare-up or when new spots form, I go through a bout of intense anxiety. I feel like I’ve lost control of my body and that it’s quickly mutilating itself and there’s nothing I can do about it. I worry that the spots will progress to my face and neck or hands. I worry that the spots will multiply like those pictures when you google ‘guttate psoriasis’. I worry that I will never be able to wear a short-sleeved shirt or shorts again. I worry that people I love will wrinkle their nose in disgust when they glimpse my skin – even as they try to hide such a reaction. I worry that psoriasis is just the beginning, that if I have developed such a problem at 26 that from now on, it’s just more and more health problems. I worry that my psoriasis will develop into psoriatic arthritis. (something like 30% of psoriatic patients eventually develop this) I worry that I’ll develop scalp psoriasis and all my hair will fall out and I’ll go bald. I worry that my psoriasis is the result of the past 5 years of binge drinking, and that my liver is already going into cirrhosis and failing. (Although my doctor assures me that my liver functions are normal.)
Sometimes it helps when my dermatologist laughs at my over-reaction. When he trivializes my illness, it makes me feel better. I guess he sees much more severe cases every single day.
Alternative medicine for Psoriasis, and what I’m doing:
Many psoriatic patients want to take the disease into their own hands. In addition to doctor prescribed methods, many use diet, health supplements, and alternative medicine to try to reduce their psoriasis. The much famed book on psoriasis by Dr.Pagano advocates for a plant-based diet avoiding nightshade vegetables (peppers, potatoes, eggplants, chilis, etc). There are also talks about avoiding dairy, gluten, animal products, sugar, and processed foods. This book is largely the reason why I am vegan this month.
However, most diet/lifestyle changes aren’t proven scientifically to affect psoriasis.
The only scientifically proven ways to avoid triggering psoriasis are:
1. Reduce stress
2. Cut out smoking completely (I don’t smoke, thankfully)
3. Cut out drinking completely – in particular beer. ($%#@!!!!)
In addition to diet, I’m taking Omega 3/Vitamin D/Lecithin/Turmeric/Probiotic supplements daily. I am also seeing a naturopath for other potential remedies.
I have been counting my spots on a bi-weekly basis in order to track flare-ups, and I have noticed a correlation between alcohol consumption and psoriasis outbreak**. This is one of the reasons why in January, I am trying to stay away from alcohol. The hope is that, one day the spots will completely clear up, and I’ll be able to add moderate drinking back into my life.
Things that I’m thankful for:
To be honest with you, the first draft of this blogpost was a much whinier, woe-is-me, the world is so unfair rendition of this one. I held off on publishing it for a while, because I don’t think that’s the best representation of my mindset.
For 25% of the time, I am feeling really down about everything, but the other 75% of the time I try to remember things I’m grateful for.
1. I have access to free health care, and can seek many medical treatments for this disease.
2. My insurance covers a lot of alternative health care providers, allowing me to see naturopaths, acupuncturists, chiropractors, psychologists for free. Many people do not have this luxury.
3. Out of all the auto-immune diseases out there, psoriasis is peanuts compared to lupus, hashimoto’s disease, grave’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and so on. I can’t die from psoriasis.
4. I have a stubborn personality, and I don’t give up easily. So I will keep seeing doctors and various healthcare professionals for as long as necessary. If they are unable to help me, then I will keep experimenting with diet and exercise.
5. My friends and family are very supportive, and I have outlets such as blogging to help me convey my thoughts and feelings rather than bottling everything up and dealing with it alone.
6. Many others have it WAY WAY worse than me. I’m sure by comparison, they would love to have only 25 spots.
7. By blogging about my psoriasis in the future, maybe I can help other people who suffer from it too.
I will keep you guys updated on any improvement or worsening of my psoriasis.
Have any of you ever had it? Do you have any tips or recommendations for me?
*this confuses me, as everything else I’ve read online tells me that once you get psoriasis, you get it forever, even if it goes into remission there is no cure – but my dermatologist also seems very competent and knowledgeable, so I’ll believe him for now.
** this correlation warrants its own blogpost, so please look for that in the future