Fast Facts: What Causes Psoriasis?


Psoriasis is a non-contagious skin disorder that results in the overproduction of cells and is characterized by red patches, small, flat bumps, or large, dry flakes that appear on the skin’s surface. Although psoriasis can affect any area of the skin, it most commonly appears on the scalp, elbows, or knees. The condition develops as cells reproduce more than five times faster than the normal production rate, causing cells to pile onto the surface of the skin before they can be sloughed off.

While the exact cause of this disorder remains unknown, most scientists believe that a few primary factors are at the heart of this disease.

Immune System

People with weakened immune systems, such as those suffering from autoimmune disorders or undergoing cancer chemotherapy, can be prone to psoriasis. Psoriasis develops when the body’s immune system causes T-cells, or white blood cells–which are typically produced to help the body fight bacteria and infections–to become overactive, thereby causing skin cells to overproduce. And while normal T-cells produce small amounts of cytokine, a healing factor for the skin, excessive amounts of cytokine produced during overactive cell production can result in the type of skin inflammation that generally characterizes psoriasis.


Researchers have discovered that numerous genetic mutations relating to T-cells are possibly responsible for psoriasis. Four genes in particular, PSOR 1 through 4, have been associated with psoriasis, as along with seven DNA variations that have been linked to other autoimmune disorders such as Grave’s disease, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Although 1 in 10 individuals carry the genes that make them susceptible to psoriasis, only 2 to 3 percent of the world’s population actually develops the disorder.


While conditions vary from one individual to another, scientists believe that numerous “triggers” can bring on psoriasis, including injuries, such as cuts or insect bites; infections, such as strep throat or chicken pox; and certain medications such as beta blockers (for high blood pressure), quinidine (for heart conditions) or lithium (for psychiatric disorders). More common triggers for psoriasis include smoking, excessive alcohol use, stress, allergies, cold weather conditions, and too little or too much sunlight.

As psoriasis research progresses, scientists learn more about how the disorder is related to genetics, as well as its association with other factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.


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