Symptoms and triggers 

Characterized by thin, red, scaly patches typically located on the elbows, knees, and scalp, psoriasis is itchy and irritating, and sometimes so unbearable that patients scratch themselves until they bleed. “Psoriasis is not just a skin-itch condition a ecting just under one million Canadians. It’s economic burden is immense: almost two billion a year,” says Christine Janus, of the Canadian Association of Psoriasis Patients.

Although there is currently no cure for the disease, with the correct treatments it can be effectively controlled. There is a common belief that psoriasis can be passed from one person to another, but this is incorrect; psoriasis is not an infection and is, therefore, not contagious.

Scientists have yet to clearly define a cause of psoriasis, explains Dr. Shafiq Qaadri, family physician and medical lecturer. “We do know there is a genetic component to the condition though, meaning that it can run in the family,” says Dr. Qaadri.

It is known, however, that environmental triggers, such as trauma to the skin, strep throat, stress, or cigarette smoking can start the fi rst appearance or flares of the disease.

“Psoriasis is not just a skin-itch condition a ecting just under one million Canadians. It’s economic burden is immense: almost two billion a year.”

Suffering in silence

Psoriasis often causes just as much psychological pain as it does physical discomfort. Many su erers experience embarrassment as well as low self-esteem and confidence, which seriously impacts their relationships, social life, work, and interpersonal skills. 

Janet English, 23, has been suffering with psoriasis for ten years, and she often finds herself picking out clothes that cover up the parts of her skin that are affected. “I work in a retail environment and sometimes customers come up and ask what’s wrong with me,” she says. “They have a judgemental look on their face that says ‘should I be touching what she’s touching?’ ”

A recent study showed that 94 percent of sufferers feel that the disease affected their overall quality of life, and 81 percent said that their work, school, and leisure activities have been significantly affected. People with psoriasis also have higher rates of depression and suicide.

A challenge with psoriasis management is the large gaps that often occur between the start of the disease and a diagnosis by a health care provider, which can sometimes take up to 15 years. This delay in diagnosis can further increase the impact of psoriasis on self-esteem and seriously affect personal and professional relationships, even after the disease is being properly treated.

Raising awareness

Despite the physical symptoms and psychological impacts, the lack of awareness surrounding the condition leads to thousands of Canadians suffering in isolation, afraid and ashamed to speak out and seek help. This needs to change, and by starting an open dialogue about psoriasis, more sufferers will be encouraged to shake off their fears and go to see a physician about treatment.

English thinks that it’s important that the general public gains a better understanding of psoriasis; she feels that if people knew it wasn’t contagious, attitudes might begin to change. “If people knew more about it, I think they’d be less judgemental,” she says. Hardeep Singh, 48, feels that the perception of psoriasis will change, but that more public education is required before that can begin to happen. “If everybody knew that it’s just a normal disease, that can’t be passed on if you shake hands with somebody, people would be more respectful to people with psoriasis,” says Singh, who has been a ected by the condition since 2009.

It does seem as though things are slowly changing, and this is reflected by a recent decision made by the World Health Organization to adopt its first ever resolution on psoriasis, recognizing the disease as a significant burden for people who, due to their condition, face stigmatization and discrimination.

A problem shared

Dr. Qaadri believes that sufferers of psoriasis should have access to advocacy and support groups, places where they can interact with others who have experienced what they’re going through. “There’s nothing more compelling for patients than hearing from someone who is now a champion of their disease,” he says. “Patients see that they too can bounce back and move forward with their lives.” Singh also feels that the introduction of support groups would be a positive step. “It’s a great idea,” he says. “We would be able to have discussions and share our feelings, it would give everybody a morale boost.”

Only when the stigma is gone — and those affected are confidentenough to open up to medical professionals — will we see every single Canadian affected by psoriasis getting the treatment that they need and deserve.

Pharmacist Carolyn Siauw comes across many patients with the disease. “My job is to provide patients with the best possible advice to make them feel as well as possible and as soon as possible,” she says, “but this can only happen through open and frank dialogue between patient and pharmacist.”

Dr. Qaadri echoes the thoughts of Siauw: “recovery starts with the patients themselves,” he says. “If you have itchy patches that don’t go away with your basic home remedies, you need to go and see a doctor.”