Psoriasis, a common autoimmune disorder that impacts over a million South Africans,1 is often misunderstood to be a simple skin disorder. This couldn’t be further from the truth—psoriasis is a serious chronic disorder that negatively impacts the overall health of a person, and can present with serious co-morbidities such as heart, lung and kidney problems.2
Unlike other chronic diseases, psoriasis is visible to other people. This makes the disease even more complicated and debilitating, as many patients also suffer with mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and relationship challenges. A recent study found that one third of adults living with psoriasis said that the disease interferes with their love life.3
Life with psoriasis
Sharon* was just seven years old when she had a severe case of chicken pox that left 90% of her body inflamed with painful burning scales. After a visit to a dermatologist, Sharon was diagnosed with psoriasis and has lived with this debilitating skin disease for over thirty years. This is Sharon’s story.
“When my symptoms of psoriasis started, there weren’t many treatment options available and over the years, I tried a myriad of creams and UVA light therapies. Unfortunately, nothing helped me achieve clear skin,” said Sharon. “My life was filled with burning, itchy and embarrassing skin, at times I felt trapped alone at home. Those rare times that I did venture out, I hid my skin under layers of clothes.”
The psychological effects of psoriasis
“My psychological pain and anguish were worse than the pain of my skin,” added Sharon. “At that time, my doctors didn’t seem to consider my emotional suffering and the impact psoriasis had on my whole life. It all became so unbearable that I went to the darkest places of my mind and considered ending my life. “
The treatment that changed everything
“Shortly after I considered suicide, I had a heart-to-heart with my doctor, who prescribed a biologic treatment,” said Sharon. “Initially, I didn’t have much hope, until I saw the difference it made to my skin. For the first time in years, I felt comfortable to wear sleeveless clothing and go out without covering up. I was overcome by joy!”
Lifestyle changes can reduce flare-ups
In addition to the right medication, lifestyle changes can also make a difference.
- Reduce stress –– psoriasis can be exacerbated by stress, so exercising regularly, doing breathing exercises, practicing yoga and mindfulness to calm your mind, body, and emotions will help.3
- Talk –– endorphins are released when you share your challenges with your loved ones. Talking also makes you feel less alone, calms anxiety and reduces the chances of depression. 3
- Check your diet –– foods such as red meat, dairy and citrus are known to cause flare-ups. Avoid them and figure out what other foods may cause your skin to flare up. We’re all different. 3
Talk to a dermatologist
It’s important to get the right treatment for your condition. Psoriasis patients are urged to motivate and pressurise their medical aid to cover the cost of treatment as it is a chronic and debilitating disease. In addition, it is your constitutional right to access healthcare.
“Psoriasis impacts people in different ways, and requires individual treatment,” says Dr Noufal Raboobee, a dermatologist based in Durban South Africa. “While each patient requires a unique treatment plan, what’s critical is that they find the right treatment plan to achieve clear skin, and do so before the disease escalates and causes additional health co-morbidities. Everyone deserves to live a fulfilled life without pain and shame.”
The bottom line
If you, or a loved one is experiencing dry, painful, scaly skin that just won’t heal, or any other symptoms of psoriasis, talk to a dermatologist. You can also learn more about psoriasis by visiting the #MoreThanSkinDeep page on Facebook. Remember, psoriasis can be treated and clear skin is achievable and its your right to get the treatment you need to live a healthy, fulfilled life.
*Name of patient has been changed for privacy reasons.