Stephen Syracuse was about 19 years old when his psoriasis got worse. Rash-like spots appeared on his elbows, forearms, knees, calves, and scalp. He was a college freshman at the time, and he wore long-sleeved shirts to avoid questions and stares. He also used steroid creams which did not help.
Now, more than 10 years later, his complexion was mostly clear. It didn’t happen overnight. It took several years of leather appointments and a lot of self-discipline.
“Even at my worst, my condition is considered moderate,” says Syracuse, a financial analyst for a credit union in Buffalo, New York. “Some people have it all over their bodies. They have it all on the face. … I always tried to put that in perspective and tell myself I’m lucky compared to other people.”
Over the years, Syracuse has done what he can to deal with the physical and mental effects of his psoriasis. He worked closely with a dermatologist to find the right treatment and had his insurance company cover it. He has gone from a high-stress job to a less stressful one. Quit smoking cigarettes and drink less alcohol. He patiently explained what the spots on his skin were when people asked questions or made hurtful comments.
Basically, it did many of the things psoriasis experts recommend.
Making certain lifestyle changes can have a powerful impact on your health, and may help the success of your treatment.
There are some changes you can start making today, should you need to.
When you have psoriasis, your immune system triggers chronic inflammation within your body. It can affect your skin and other organs and tissues.
The more you weigh, the more inflammation your body causes, which makes psoriasis worse, says Francisco Tausk, MD. He’s a professor of dermatology, allergy, immunology, and rheumatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
Studies show that biologic medications used to treat psoriasis work best when people lose extra pounds, Tusk says.
Your goal should be to gradually reach a weight that’s healthy for you, says Dawn Marie Davies, MD, associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Ask your doctor or dermatologist to help you get there.
Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet with reasonable portion sizes can help you lose weight. Ideally, the best eating plan is a plant-based diet of whole foods, says Tausk. If you are not ready for this, try to eat more vegetables and legumes, and eat less red meat and saturated fats.
Put together a grocery list of healthy foods before you go to the store so you don’t buy tempting snacks that aren’t on the list, says Davis. And replace your favorite candy with healthy alternatives. For example, buy baked vegetable chips instead of potato chips, or sparkling flavored water instead of soda.
Exercise can also help you drop pounds. If you’re not already active, ask your doctor to help you get started — especially if you also have psoriatic arthritis, which makes joints painful and stiff. In that case, you can try low-impact exercises like swimming, yoga, or walking in supportive shoes, says Davis.
When you find a type of exercise you like, make it a habit, she says. If you like to swim, for example, put your goggles, swimsuit, and towel on the night before. Then call a friend who swims and ask him to meet you at the pool the next morning. It helps keep you accountable.
“You may want to give yourself up, but you won’t want to give up and not show your friend. So find a friend for accountability,” says Davis.
Research shows that limiting the amount of alcohol you drink can make your treatment more effective and help keep symptoms at bay for longer.
Even drinking in moderation may affect your psoriasis, says Davis.
If you drink while taking methotrexate for psoriasis, the odds of liver damage go up. What’s more, Tusk says, people with psoriasis already have a “much higher percentage” of fat in their liver along with inflammation and damage, a condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
“If you add another insult, which is alcohol, you stress the liver a lot more,” Tusk says.
Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about what is safe for you. Ask if you need to consider giving up alcohol.
Quitting this habit is associated with a reduced incidence of psoriasis flare-ups. Tell your doctor if you need help quitting smoking. And if you live with someone who smokes, ask them if they’re ready to quit or at least light up outside.
“Direct smoking and maybe even passive or passive smoking” can affect someone’s psoriasis, says Davis.
Tusk says that some people with psoriasis see their condition worsen due to constant stress. “Chronic stress is strongly associated with depression, and it’s very pro-inflammatory,” he says.
Talk to your dermatologist if you notice your psoriasis flares up when you’re stressed. Depending on things like your personal condition and how bad your flare is, they may add medication to your regular regimen or change your treatment until your stress is under control, says Davis.
Things that can help you take charge of stress include:
It is important to talk to your doctor or dermatologist if you are feeling anxious or depressed. They can refer you to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychiatrist, so that you can get the help and relief you need — and deserve.
“We have surveys of our psoriasis patients that show they have a higher rate of depression and anxiety,” Davis says. “It’s not uncommon for people to share how they feel different, feel left out, and feel criticized.”
“[People] With psoriasis they have more feelings of loneliness,” Tusk says. “They feel stigmatized. They tend not to participate in a lot of activities because they are embarrassed.”
If so, consider meeting other people with psoriasis, who may be able to relate to what you’re going through. Your dermatologist can direct you to local support groups and other online resources.
“The National Psoriasis Foundation has groups in different cities,” says Tausk. “if [people] They think what they have is the worst thing in the world, they understand that there are always people out there [who] They are worse, and they are able to share their experiences.
Having psoriasis makes you more likely to develop other health conditions.
“We used to see it as fair [affecting] Skin. Well, not anymore. “Nowadays, we see psoriasis as a systemic disease that affects different parts of the body.”
He says more and more research is linking psoriasis to problems like inflammatory bowel disease and a type of eye inflammation called uveitis.
Other serious conditions associated with psoriasis include:
Make sure your doctor checks you for related health conditions and gets treatment if you have any, says Davis. Often, controlling another condition can make psoriasis easier to treat.
The key is to go to all of your medical appointments.
“It’s very important for patients with psoriasis to maintain a relationship with a dermatologist or primary care provider because psoriasis is such a complex disease,” says Davis. “If patients don’t come back to see us, we don’t know what’s going on, and we can’t help them with all the variables they have to address.”
“We understand that we’re asking our patients to do a lot,” Davis says. “Although it looks uncomplicated, it is difficult to implement.”
She says you don’t have to change everything in your lifestyle at once. You can work on changing one thing at a time, and that can help you make it into a habit.
Your psoriasis may still take its toll at times, but “you should be proud of yourself for being proactive, resilient, dedicated, and empowering with your health,” says Davis.