What Is Psoriasis?
- Psoriasis is a skin condition that is characterized by itchy, red, sometimes scaly patches that appear on the skin. The condition is chronic and typically will come and go throughout a patient’s lifetime.
- A recent literature review to assess the role of mindfulness found that meditation may help patients manage psoriasis symptoms; One woman shares her psoriasis story and says meditation and a shift in mindset improved her skin.
- There are several different types of psoriasis. Patients may experience only one psoriasis type, or multiple types of the skin disorder.
- In between flare-ups, psoriasis is typically asymptomatic, meaning negative symptoms are not experienced.
And she may not be the only one. A recent literature review done by Erin Bartholomew, from the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues found meditation may help patients manage their psoriasis.Read More
Boutwell was diagnosed with the auto-immune skin condition psoriasis at age 12, which is arguably one of the most difficult times for a young girl. Boutwell shares she tried to first treat her psoriasis with tar baths and then tried oatmeal baths. After that, her doctor gave her different types of topical steroid creams over the years, none of which seemed to do much other than lessen the skin symptoms.
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When she was in her early 20s she started a self-injection drug called Humira, which she took for 6 years until she started to wake up feeling “super fatigued and sore.”
“While I know Humira works well for many people—and you should always check in with your doctor about the right treatment options for you—for me, it wasn’t quite the answer,” said Boutwell. “Something had to change, so I stopped that cold turkey and focused on my diet and mental health. These were the game-changers.”
What Is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red, itchy patches to develop on the skin. It is a chronic disease, which means that it does not have a cure.
Symptoms can often be managed with different treatment options as well as lifestyle adjustments. This condition is rare. Only about 3.2% of the U.S. population suffers from it, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Still, there have been major developments in recent years when it comes to treatment and management of psoriasis.
“Psoriasis is a chronic, auto-immune skin condition where you have red, scaly patches on the skin,” Dr. Saakshi Khattri, a Dermatologist/Rheumatologist at Mount Sinai Health System, tells SurvivorNet. “It is a long-term condition, which can ebb and flow. You can have good days and bad days.”
Dr. Saakshi explains that while anyone can develop psoriasis, the disease is more common in people between the ages of 30 and 50. Researchers believe genetics, as well as environmental factors, may play a vital role in the development of this disease.
Some psoriasis patients can be asymptomatic (without symptoms), so people who have the disease will not be dealing with constant outbreaks or ‘flare-ups’.
Patients have reported itching or a burning sensation, but it “doesn’t tend to be the norm,” said Dr. Khattri.
Separately, Dr. George Han, a Dermatologist at Northwell Health/Lenox Hill Hospital, told SurvivorNet he sees many patients with itching. “It is interesting because if you look at the older dermatology textbooks, there was this concept that psoriasis is not supposed to itch. And so they made this distinction between the itchy rash, which is eczema dermatitis and psoriasis, which is supposed to be not itchy,” Dr. Han says. “But if you actually ask patients and in some of the modern literature now, upwards of 80% to 90% of patients do have itching associated with their psoriasis.”
Boutwell said back when she was diagnosed with psoriasis she wanted to cover up her whole body because of the red patches.
“This was 1997, and society’s view on what beautiful women were really messed with my head during this period of time because of the way my skin looked,” she said. “I lost confidence, I struggled with the thought of it not being curable, and I wore long pants and long sleeves even when it was uncomfortable. It was heartbreaking because I thought it was all people would see.”
Generalized symptoms associated with the disease include the following:
- Red patches of skin covered with silvery-like scales
- Small scaling spots
- Dry, cracked skin that may bleed or itch
- Itching, burning sensation, or soreness
- Thickened or ridged nails
- Swollen or stiff joints
Finding Mindfulness: The Benefits
After 20 years with this auto-immune disease, Boutwell says she was also diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.
“Now, not only was I covered in red spots, but my joints were swollen and painful. What really started working for me was finding ways to reduce everyday stress,” she said.
“This meant my mindset, how much I thought about my skin, what I was thinking when I was focusing on my skin, and finally starting to change my self-talk. Honestly, my skin improves every time I feel free, confident, strong and healthy.”
Boutwell said she started doing yoga and then breath work, which turned into daily walks and outside grounding practices. This led her to try nature meditation (meditation in natural surroundings), as well as saying daily affirmations out loud.
“I know, hippie stuff, right? Well, I can’t deny it. Once I started talking nice to my body and telling myself how beautiful I am while standing in the mirror, I started caring less about what it actually looked like,” she said.
The review mentioned earlier, published in Dermatology and Therapy, reviewed six randomized control trials (RCTs) with a pooled 356 patients with psoriasis. Of those, the researchers found five trials demonstrated improvement in self-administered psoriasis area and severity index (saPASI) after 8 or 12 weeks of guided meditation. In addition, one RCT and one non-randomized control trial reported mental health benefits in psoriasis patients following guided meditation.
“These results suggest that meditation can be used as a tool to improve both psoriasis skin severity and patient quality of life in the short term,” said the review. However, they warn “more research is needed to evaluate the effect of meditation on psoriasis severity and quality of life in the long term.”
Boutwell says there is no exact same journey to healing, but advises other psoriasis patients use mindfulness practices and in doing so your psoriasis “may also remain tame.”