Wellcome Image of the Month: Psoriasis
August is Psoriasis Awareness Month, and in recognition of this we have selected this wonderfully colourful scanning electron micrograph as our Image of the Month.
Psoriasis is a common skin condition affecting around two per cent of people in the UK. It causes patches of red, flaky skin covered with dry, silvery scales which are itchy and uncomfortable. The condition can occur at any age and affects males and females equally. Although psoriasis is a chronic disease, it is not contagious and most people are only affected in small patches on their body most commonly on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. Normally skin cells are produced, mature though the epidermis and are lost from the surface of the skin within about 28 days. In psoriasis, this cycle is dramatically speeded up to between two and six days resulting in a very rapid build up of underdeveloped cells on the surface of the skin. This happens because T-cells of the immune system become overactive, producing an inflammatory response leading to excessive growth. Psoriasis also has a genetic component. Many different genes have been linked to the development of the disease, and different combinations of genes may determine vulnerability to the condition.
Symptoms of psoriasis can start or be made worse by certain triggers such as injury to the skin, smoking, alcohol consumption, stress and other disorders associated with compromised immunity, such as HIV. Unfortunately, no cure exists, but a range of treatments are available to help manage the symptoms, including topical therapies like lotions, creams and ointments, exposure to UV light – called phototherapy – and medicated treatment such as prescribed tablets or injections targeting the immune system.
The term ‘psoriasis’ typically refers to the skin disease, but our Image of the Month shows one of the rarer forms: psoriasis of the tongue. Also known as geographic tongue and/or fissured tongue, oral psoriasis is characterised by small red patches, yellow discolouration and the appearance of cracks or groves across the surface of the tongue. The condition is not typically painful, but may cause a burning or stinging sensation. Treatment is often an avoidance of spicy and citrus flavoured foods which may trigger or exacerbate the problem, but burning can be reduced by taking antihistamines.
Each August, the National Psoriasis Foundation sponsors Psoriasis Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness, dispelling myths and educating the public. Last year, the Foundation awarded over $1 million in grants supporting research in areas such as immunology, genetics, and skin biology.
“We promote psoriasis awareness to show people the seriousness of psoriatic disease. Many people think psoriasis is contagious or that it is simply a rash or skin irritation. Through our Psoriasis Awareness Month initiatives, we educate the public, tell our stories, and show people what life with psoriatic disease is really like.”
– Krista Kellogg, chair-elect, National Psoriasis Foundation Board of Trustees.
Ruth Milne, Wellcome Images
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