If you are living with psoriasis, you may wonder about your risk factors. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system is triggered and mistakenly attacks its own cells and tissues. There’s no clear understanding as to why this immune system dysfunction happens in people with psoriasis, and there’s no single cause of psoriasis. However, researchers have discovered several different factors that increase a person’s risk for developing psoriasis.
Normally, immune cells called T cells are responsible for attacking invaders like bacteria and viruses. In psoriasis, T cells attack your skin, and in psoriatic arthritis, they attack the joints. At the same time, the body releases cytokines and other proteins that cause inflammation — discoloration, swelling, pain, and heat — in areas where the disease is active.
As a result of autoimmune attacks, the body produces new skin cells at a faster speed. People without psoriasis replace their skin cells about once a month, shedding old cells as they are replaced. In psoriasis, skin cells are replaced every few days, but they cannot be shed quickly, resulting in the build-up of thick, scaly skin, as seen in plaque psoriasis.
Psoriasis involves multiple risk factors, and varying circumstances can trigger it. Learn more about the risk factors for psoriasis and common flare triggers.
Research shows that people with a family history of psoriasis have an increased risk of developing the condition. One study found that people who had a sibling with psoriasis were four to six times more likely to develop it.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, if a parent has psoriasis, their child has a 28 percent chance of also developing psoriasis. That risk shoots up to 65 percent if both parents have psoriasis. However, some people with psoriasis have no family history of the disease, so having parents or a sibling with psoriasis doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get it too.
Because scientists have found patterns of psoriasis within families, they’ve questioned whether psoriasis has a genetic component. So far, researchers have found there are several loci, or locations of a gene on a chromosome, that are associated with the development of psoriasis. One of these is the PSOR1 locus. Scientists have also found specific genes and associations between genes that may play a role in the development of psoriasis.
As cited in the journal Trends in Genetics, some of the genes found to be associated with the development of psoriasis include HLAC, IL23A, IL12B, TNIP1, HBD, and HLA-Cw6. Research studies have found that nearly 46 percent of people with plaque psoriasis have the HLA-Cw6 gene, as compared to only 7.4 percent of people without psoriasis.
Not everyone with the HLA-Cw6 or other psoriasis-associated genes will develop psoriasis. However, for someone with a genetic predisposition to psoriasis, changes in the immune system and environmental factors can cause symptoms to develop. A genetic predisposition means that because of your genes, you have a higher chance of having or developing a particular trait or condition.
People with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis also have a higher risk for developing other ongoing conditions or comorbidities (two or more conditions at the same time), including:
Psoriasis does not cause these conditions, but they may share underlying genetic risk factors.
Smoking tobacco raises the risk of developing psoriasis. A 2020 meta-analysis found that people who smoked in the past or currently smoke had a higher risk of psoriasis as compared to people who had never smoked. According to Mayo Clinic, smoking tobacco can also make your psoriasis worse.
If you smoke tobacco and have psoriasis, it’s hard to say whether smoking was the only cause of your psoriasis. However, quitting smoking may help you better manage symptoms of the skin disease.
Studies have shown a strong connection between smoking and palmoplantar psoriasis. Palmoplantar psoriasis is a type of skin condition that causes discolored, scaly patches to develop on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
Infections, including those caused by bacteria such as streptococcus (the cause of strep throat), are known to trigger flares in people with psoriasis. Some scientists believe that strep infections set off the initial immune reaction that causes psoriasis to develop. If someone has a genetic tendency for psoriasis triggered by infections, they might have psoriasis flare-ups with a strep throat infection.
The International Journal of Molecular Sciences cites that the link between upper respiratory infections and guttate psoriasis is the most well-established. Guttate psoriasis is a type of psoriasis in which small, discolored, scaly spots appear on the skin. It often occurs after a bacterial infection, like strep throat, and can go away on its own over time. Strep infections affect the immune system and are known to cause similar autoimmune attacks in rheumatic heart disease and kidney disease.
Other infections that have been found to trigger psoriasis flares include:
Although scientists have observed connections between infections and psoriasis flare-ups, the exact way in which infections trigger psoriasis symptoms is not well understood.
There is a connection between a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher and psoriasis. Scientists are uncertain whether having a higher body weight increases a person’s risk for developing psoriasis, or whether having psoriasis raises the risk for a higher body weight.
Both higher body weight and psoriasis share a common factor of inflammation. Epidemiology studies have also found that the severity of psoriasis symptoms increases as BMI increases. An epidemiology study is a kind of research that focuses on studying the patterns, causes, and effects of health-related events and conditions within populations.
Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can go into remission — when you experience minimal or no symptoms. A remission can last for months or years until the next disease flare-up. Many situations can trigger flares of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis symptoms.
Some flare triggers are also being researched as possible causes of psoriasis, but most are not thought to cause the disease itself. Flare triggers are conditions that increase inflammation and stimulate autoimmune attacks, bringing new or worse psoriasis symptoms.
The triggers for psoriasis can vary from person to person. Common triggers include:
If you need help identifying and avoiding your psoriasis triggers, talk to your dermatology provider. In addition to helping treat your psoriasis, they can give you information and advice to help you prevent flare-ups. They can also provide you with resources for smoking cessation programs.
Psoriasis is not contagious. You cannot catch it by touching someone with psoriasis, even if they are in a flare state with a visible rash.
Many people mistakenly believe that psoriasis is contagious because they don’t know enough about the condition. This misunderstanding can lead to unfair treatment and isolation for individuals living with psoriasis. It’s important to educate others and raise awareness about psoriasis to fight against these negative attitudes and create a supportive community for those affected by the condition.
MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 118,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.
Have you been diagnosed with psoriasis? Have you noticed family history or other risk factors influencing your condition? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.