A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo
En Español
divider line


Psoriasis (suh-REYE-uh-suhss) is a long-lasting skin disease. In the most common form of psoriasis, thick red patches covered with silvery scales usually appear on the head, elbows, and knees. But they can show up on other parts of the body.

Psoriasis is caused by a problem with the body's defense system, called the immune system. In psoriasis, part of the immune system is overactive, causing skin cells that grow deep in the skin to rise to the surface much faster than normal. So, skin cells build up in the affected area, and thick patches result.

The itching and pain of psoriasis can interfere with daily activities, such as walking, sleeping, and taking care of yourself. Plaques on the hands and feet can prevent you from working at certain jobs, playing some sports, and caring for family members. Psoriasis can also make you feel self-conscious about your appearance and afraid of being rejected by others. These concerns can lead to social isolation and depression.

If you have psoriasis, you may notice that there are times when your skin worsens, then improves. Things that can cause your skin to get worse include:

  • Weather changes that dry the skin
  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Certain medicines

Anyone can get psoriasis. But it occurs more often in adults. Sometimes psoriasis runs in families. Certain genes have been linked to the disease.

Psoriasis can be hard to diagnose because it can look like other skin diseases. The doctor might need to look at a small skin sample under a microscope. The good news is that psoriasis can be treated. Therapies include:

  • Medicine
  • Light treatment

Return to top

More information on Psoriasis

Explore other publications and websites

Connect with other organizations

Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

Return to top