The Heartbreak of Psoriasis

“The Heartbreak of Psoriasis” is a phase the author John Updike, a sufferer of psoriasis himself, used to describe his self consciousness with the condition. While psoriasis is a skin condition, it impacts people’s daily lives in social situations and has a significant emotional impact. In addition, psoriasis may cause itching, physical discomfort, and is often associated with arthritic joint pain.   Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used to treat psoriasis for thousands of years.

What Causes Psoriasis?

In both acupuncture theory and western medicine, psoriasis is more than skin deep. Psoriasis is caused by a complex interaction between genetic disposition, the environment, and the immune system.  In acupuncture,  this dysfunction is described as imbalances which disrupt the body and keep it from healing. Once the imbalances are corrected, your body can work to heal itself and stay healthy.

Psoriasis causes auto-immune reactions which make skin cells overgrow, leading to the development of plaques and scales.  The environment also influences the development of the condition including drugs, trauma, infection, and stress.

In acupuncture and Chinese medicine, psoriasis is caused by imbalances. The diagnosis of the specific imbalance is based upon your symptoms, such as itch, pain, or irritation, the appearance of the skin lesions. The most common imbalances, which cause psoriasis, are blood heat, dryness, and blood stagnation. Damp heat can also be a factor, particularly in pustular psoriasis.

What are Psoriasis symptoms?

Psoriasis plaques on back

Psoriasis causes the formation of round and oval raised lesions. Often there is silvery white scale over these lesions. Itching may occur and can be severe in certain cases, but not everyone will have itch.  In those with psoriasis, the lesion may appear at a site of physical trauma, which is called a Koebner phenomenon. Many people with psoriasis also suffer from chronic joint pain and arthritis.

Psoriasis tends to affect the outside of the arms and legs more than the inside. Common areas that are most effected from psoriasis are the back, elbows, scalp, groin area, fingernails, and toenails. Some medications and drugs may exacerbate the development of this condition.

There are many types of psoriasis, the most common type being chronic plaque psoriasis. This chronic form is the most common and the lesions may last for months, even years when they develop. This form reacts well to acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment.

There are some acute inflammatory forms of psoriasis, which must be treated immediately by a physician or in the emergency department.

The Most Common Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Imbalances

Blood Heat- Blood heat is characterized by the acute onset of psoriasis with possible severe itching. The lesions are often bright red irregular patterns of plaque. The size and extent of the lesions suggest the amount of heat. The greater number and larger the lesions, the greater amount of heat.

Blood Dryness- Blood dryness occurs with chronic cases of psoriasis. Itching may or may not be present. The lesions can appear pale red or dull red in color. The scales may appear to be dryer with blood dryness.

Blood Stagnation– Blood stagnation also occurs when there is long term chronic psoriasis. It often is characterized by remission and relapses. The plaques are irregular, hard, and thick and may be purplish and dry in color.

Damp heat occurs in pustular psoriasis. This is when there is a large amount of inflammation, swelling, fissures, and exudate. The lesions may be moist and swollen and there may be pus.

Psoriasis Treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Chinese herbal therapy works by correcting the specific imbalance causing underlying psoraisis. The prescription is tailored to your symptoms and imbalance specifically.

Ku Shen and Huang qin

The treatment usually combines both acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy. Acupuncture can help to reduce itch and, if there is pain associated with the condition, help to kill the pain. Acupuncture points such as LI 11 and LI 4 help to clear heat. GB 34 and GB 31 can help relieve the itching. Ear acupuncture and ear magnet therapy I find helps to relieve itching very quickly.

sheng di huang and ku shen

In addition to acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy is necessary for having substantial results with psoriasis. Chinese herbs are given in formulas, which may contain 10-15 herbs. They are most often cooked and drank as teas. The ingredients are chosen specifically for your condition. For example, if there is blood stagnation and blood dryness, the formula would focus on moving the blood stagnation and nourishing the dryness. Herbs such as Sheng di huang nourish the blood and Dan shen move blood stagnation would be included. Mu dan pi also can help nourish the blood while moving heat. However, if the imbalance is damp heat, herbs that are stronger to clear damp heat would be added such as ku shen or huang qin.  Herbs for external application are also extremely effective to help psoriasis.

One of the amazing and phenomenal aspects of acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment is that it can lead to long term reduction in psoriasis.  We describe this as correcting the imbalances in the body rather than masking the psoriasis symptoms.

In my next post I write about  Traditional Chinese medicine for psoriasis.

Photos: The Wednesday Island of English Wikipedia

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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