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Living Well with Psoriasis

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A Guide to Elbow Psoriasis

Medically Reviewed By Bukky Aremu, APRN

Several psoriasis types can affect the elbows, including plaque psoriasis and guttate psoriasis. Depending on your skin tone, elbow psoriasis may look like inflamed, scaly patches that vary from pink to red or purple to darker brown. Research is ongoing into the exact causes of psoriasis, but they might involve environmental and genetic factors. To treat psoriasis on the elbow, your doctor may recommend topical treatments, oral medications, or procedures like phototherapy.

This article discusses elbow psoriasis, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and potential treatments. 

What types of psoriasis can affect the elbows?

An adult female touching her elbow
Photography by Carol Yepes/ Getty Images

Several types of psoriasis exist, but some are more likely to develop on the elbows. These types include:

  • Plaque psoriasis: It is the most common type of psoriasis and often affects Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back. The raised skin areas known as plaques typically each have a silvery-white or gray scale of dead skin cells on top.
  • Guttate psoriasis: Guttate psoriasis looks like small, round, widespread lesions. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, it can appear on any body part, including the elbows.
  • Pustular psoriasis: This type can be visible anywhere on the body, including the elbows, and looks like white pustules surrounded by discolored skin. 
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis: A rare form of psoriasis, this type can affect large areas of the body with a discolored, peeling rash that itches or burns intensely.

People with psoriasis on the elbow can have more than one type at the same time.

Take a quick look at psoriasis.

What causes psoriasis on the elbows?

In people with psoriasis, the immune system causes the body to make too many skin cells, which leads to Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the formation of patches or plaques. The silvery, flaky skin on top consists of skin cells that do not release lipids, which help protect the skin.

Read more about what psoriasis does to the body.

Experts believe that genetic and environmental or lifestyle factors may link to psoriasis Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . Triggers often cause flare-ups of elbow psoriasis symptoms. The triggers can vary for people.

Some triggers that can worsen psoriasis include:

  • strep throat infection or other illnesses
  • skin injuries, including cuts, bug bites, and sunburns
  • dry skin
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or lithium (Eskalith)
  • stress
  • cold weather

What are the symptoms of psoriasis on the elbows?

The symptoms of elbow psoriasis may include:

  • flat, discolored skin patches
  • raised and scaly skin plaques
  • dry, cracked skin
  • itchiness, burning, or soreness
  • thick, pitted, or ridged fingernails
  • skin peeling or flaking
  • pain

People with dark skin tones may experience thicker plaques that appear darker red, brown, or purple. People with light skin typically experience red or pink discoloration.

Find out what different types of psoriasis look like.

How can doctors diagnose psoriasis on the elbows?

An evaluation of your symptoms, medical history, and a physical examination are often sufficient Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to make a psoriasis diagnosis. If the diagnosis is unclear or your dermatologist wants to rule out other conditions, they may perform a skin biopsy, taking a small skin sample for further analysis.

What are the treatments for psoriasis on the elbows?

Treatment for elbow psoriasis can vary, depending on how severe it is. Your doctor will focus on reducing inflammation, slowing skin cell growth, and removing scaly skin cells.

Elbow psoriasis treatments may include:

  • Topical creams and lotions: Medications applied directly to the skin in a cream or lotion often are the first steps to treating mild elbow psoriasis. These can include Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :
    • corticosteroids
    • vitamin D analogs
    • retinoids
    • salicylic acid
    • coal tar
    • moisturizers and emollients
  • Phototherapy: Exposing the skin to controlled amounts of UV light may be effective for psoriasis that covers a small portion of the body, like the elbows. Your doctor will help you understand the potential drawbacks of this type of treatment, such as an increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Medications: If your symptoms are severe or do not respond to other treatments, your doctor might prescribe medications to take by mouth, injection, or infusion. These might include medications like methotrexate (Jylamvo), cyclosporine (Neoral), and biologics that target your immune system.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Avoiding alcohol and smoking, reducing stress, and maintaining a moderate weight may also help Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source manage the symptoms of elbow psoriasis.

Learn more about commonly prescribed medications for psoriasis.

What is the outlook for people with psoriasis on the elbows?

Psoriasis on the elbow can vary from mild to severe. People with psoriasis typically experience Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source symptom flare-ups followed by periods of remission, meaning they have little to no symptoms.

Though psoriasis is a chronic condition, your care team can help you manage it effectively with the right treatment approach.

Learn 4 at-home pain relief tips for psoriasis flare-ups.

What are some potential complications of psoriasis on the elbows?

People with psoriasis, including those experiencing elbow psoriasis, may be at a higher risk of complications Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source such as:

  • secondary infections
  • scarring
  • psoriatic arthritis
  • certain cancers like lymphoma
  • cardiac events

Because it can negatively affect quality of life and self-esteem, psoriasis also links to mental health conditions like depression. Getting treatment can help reduce your risk of complications.

Find out how treating psoriasis can improve your overall health.

Can you prevent psoriasis on the elbows?

Experts need to perform more research to determine whether psoriasis can be preventable altogether. However, working with your dermatologist to treat elbow psoriasis will help prevent flare-ups.

In addition to following your treatment instructions, try to avoid triggers and keep your skin healthy by applying moisturizers and preventing skin injuries. Excessive sunlight exposure can also worsen Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source psoriasis symptoms, so limit your time in the sun or wear protective clothing and sunscreen.

Summary

Psoriasis can affect many areas of the body, including the elbows. People with elbow psoriasis may experience patches or plaques, dryness, cracking, and flaking.

Psoriasis varies from mild to severe, but the right treatment can help many people experience symptom remission. Ask your doctor about psoriasis treatment for your situation.

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Medical Reviewer: Bukky Aremu, APRN
Last Review Date: 2023 Jul 21
View All Living Well with Psoriasis Articles
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