Doctors push to tackle the stigma of psoriasis

Doctors have spoken out to raise awareness of the skin condition and dispel misconceptions about the disease.

Khalil Al Mansori, 42, who lives in Umm Al Quwain, found out he had psoriasis three months ago. He feels there is a stigma attached to psoriasis and he would like greater awareness. Razan Alzayani / The National
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Abu Dhabi // Many sufferers from a chronic skin disease feel stigmatised and withdraw from social activities because of a lack of understanding of the condition.

Doctors are now speaking out about psoriasis to dispel misconceptions about it, stressing that it is a much more serious condition than just a skin disease.

Dr Anwar Al Hammadi, an Emirati consultant dermatologist at Mediclinic City Hospital in Dubai, said there was a stigma attached to psoriasis, with some people wrongly believing it was contagious.

“I have seen a lot of patients who unfortunately withdraw from social activities, from sports, just because of their psoriasis,” he said.

“We are encouraging them, as physicians, to do all these activities in order to lose weight but at the same time, they tell us, ‘Doctors, you don’t understand or appreciate that I try to go to swimming classes. Once I went to swimming classes everyone was looking at me’.”

Psoriasis usually presents as large red patches covered with white, silvery scaling. It usually appears on elbows and knees but can also affect nails, the scalp or anywhere on the body.

“Unfortunately, sometimes, it can affect their life,” Dr Al Hammadi said.

The condition can play a part in the breakdown of relationships or mean the sufferer has to change jobs – depending on the nature of their occupation and which part of the body is affected.

Awareness is improving – globally and in the UAE – but doctors would like to see more progress.

“Still they believe that this might be contagious and people, they hesitate to shake hands with some people who have psoriasis,” Dr Al Hammadi said.

Psoriasis affects men and women and usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50, but can occur before or after. Children can also suffer from the condition.

It is an autoimmune disease, without a cause, but genetics plays a major role.

In general, it affects about 2 per cent of the global population, but those with a family history of the disease have a higher risk of it developing.

If one parent is affected by psoriasis there is a 14 per cent chance their child will develop it. If both parents are sufferers, the figure jumps to 40 per cent.

“In the past we used to say psoriasis is a skin disease. Right now we say that psoriasis is a systemic disease,” said Dr Al Hammadi. “It has been found that psoriasis also can affect other systems in the body, other than the skin.

“For example, those who have psoriasis, about 25 to 30 per cent can have what we call psoriatic arthritis, which means that it can affect the joints.”

Psoriasis has also been linked to other conditions, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a high lipid count, and can cause heart problems.

“Those with psoriasis need to have a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent these complications,” he said.

Khalil Al Mansori, 42, who lives in Umm Al Quwain, found out he had psoriasis three months ago.

He did not know what it was initially.

“I thought it was an allergy or skin rashes because of food I have eaten. But the condition didn’t fade away and that’s when I thought I should see a doctor,” said the Emirati, who has the condition under his left knee, so it is hidden when he wears a kandura.

There is a stigma attached to psoriasis, he feels, and he would like greater awareness.

“Sometimes, if you are in a meeting or with a group of people you can’t just itch the infected area in front of people for five minutes or more. You can itch it for 30 seconds. Unfortunately people would think that I am dirty or not clean,” he said.

Dr Hussein Abdel Dayem, a consultant dermatologist in Abu Dhabi, said psoriasis could have a severe impact on a patient’s quality of life – socially and psychologically.

“The sufferers themselves do prefer to keep away and not expose their disease to the public,” said the doctor, who works at Al Noor Hospital on Khalifa Street.

“We need a greater understanding from the public. The general attitude from people is that any skin disease is a contagious condition, which is not right.”

There is no cure but treatment usually helps keep psoriasis under control. It is tailored to the individual but options include creams, shampoos, tablets, a special form of phototherapy or biological therapy, in the form of an injection the patient can give themselves.