An estimated 1 million Canadians and 125 million people worldwide live with psoriasis – and its effects go beyond the surface of a patient’s skin. 

In a 2009 national survey, more than one third of the respondents considered psoriasis a significant problem in their daily life.

Dermatologist Dr. Ron Vender, Director of Venderm Innovations in Psoriasis and associate clinical professor at McMaster University, regularly sees the emotional and physical toll that psoriasis has on patients. 

“These patients come in quite desperate, upset or anxious,” he says. However, with long-term treatments now available, he says that there is reason for those with psoriasis to feel hopeful. 

Beyond the surface 

The natural cycle of skin regeneration takes 28-30 days, but psoriasis causes skin cells to grow and mature approximately every three to six days. The body is unable to shed skin that is produced at such an abnormally fast rate so cells pile up on the skin’s surface, forming raised, scaly lesions. The resulting patches are often itchy and painful and are typically seen on areas such as the elbows, knees, and even the palms or soles of the feet. The most common place for psoriasis is on the scalp. 

This chronic inflammatory disease can develop in men and women of any age but is typically seen in adults. Though it is not contagious, the disorder can be hereditary meaning that children of psoriasis patients have a slightly higher chance of developing the condition. 

Vender explains that while the typical psoriasis symptoms are visible on the skin, patients may not realize that their other health issues are also related to this condition.

Recent studies indicate that psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that can increase the risk for conditions such as psoriatic arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and other immune-related issues such as Crohn’s disease.

When experts talk about the “heartbreak of psoriasis”, Vender explains that it can mean either physical heart problems related to psoriasis or the significant psychological burden, such as suffering from depression and anxiety, caused by the disease. 

Not only does psoriasis put a patient’s health at physical risk, but according to Vender, in the field of dermatology, this condition has one of the biggest impacts on a patient’s day-to-day life. 

The lesions can leave visible flakes and sometimes crack and bleed, staining clothing – factors that Vender says can leave patients feeling “very embarrassed.” Some patients reported avoiding shorts or t-shirts in the summer because of how people react to seeing their psoriasis. At home, patients reported that the painful patches and constant need to scratch made sleeping nearly impossible. 

“You don’t deserve to be like this,” Vender says. “There are treatments available and you have to seek out the best one for you, and that treatment is out there.” 

Psoriasis makes daily life a challenge, but with the treatments now available, Vender wants patients to know that it’s possible to be comfortable in your own skin.  

Seeking long-term solutions 

Topical creams and ointments can provide temporary relief, but according to Vender, the use of biologics, medicines derived from living cells that target specific parts of the immune system, has revolutionized the treatment of psoriasis. 

“What we have now are treatments that not only give quick relief but also long-term relief,” he says. 

Vender encourages those struggling with psoriasis symptoms, or those unsatisfied with their current treatment options, to meet with a dermatologist to find a solution that works, and will continue working for years to come. He adds that because the disease can progress and increase the risk for other immune conditions, the earlier patients meet with their physician, the better. 

“You don’t deserve to be like this,” he says. “There are treatments available and you have to seek out the best one for you, and that treatment is out there.” 

Vender says with the use of biologics, dozens of his patients have now been clear of their itchy, red psoriasis patches for five years and counting. These patients still have psoriasis, but with their symptoms under control, Vender says that they become completely different people — more confident in social and professional situations, empowered, and healthier overall. 

“It’s really about taking control of their disease and not letting the disease control of them,” he says.