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The Problem: Red patches of skin are covered with silvery scales.
The Diagnosis: Psoriasis affects an estimated 7.5 million Americans. This inherited autoimmune disease causes itchy, dry, sometimes painful patches to build up on elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. And the disease often goes beyond skin-deep: Those with severe psoriasis are at least 24% more likely to have a heart attack due to artery-clogging inflammation brought on by an overreactive immune system.
Winterproofing: Flare-ups generally occur in the colder months when there's a decrease in exposure to the sun's UVB rays, which help slow down skin-cell growth. Phototherapy treatments at a dermatologist's office or prescription home-light units (usually covered by insurance) are your best UVB options. (Skip tanning beds—they mostly emit harmful UVA rays.) Light therapies are most effective when combined with medications like retinoids, methotrexate (a chemo drug), or cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant). Topical corticosteroid, retinoid and vitamin D3 creams alleviate mild symptoms.
Stress can also aggravate the condition, so try to up your inner calm. "Relaxation techniques like yoga and biofeedback—and even anti-anxiety medications—can reduce stress-induced psoriasis outbreaks," says Alan Menter, M.D., chair of the psoriasis research unit at Baylor Research Institute in Dallas.