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Living Well with Psoriasis

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A Guide to Psoriasis on the Arms

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

Different types of psoriasis can affect the arms, including plaque, guttate, and inverse psoriasis. People with arm psoriasis may experience discolored patches or plaques, flaking, scaling, and itching. You can manage psoriasis with medications like corticosteroids, vitamin D analogs, and retinoids. Certain lifestyle changes, such as moisturizing regularly and reducing stress, and procedures like phototherapy may also be beneficial.

This article discusses psoriasis on the arms, including its causes, symptoms, treatments, and complications.

What types of psoriasis can affect the arms?

An adult standing in the sun and holding their right arm out to one side
Nicole Mason/Stocksy United

Several types of psoriasis can affect the arms.

  • Plaque psoriasis: The most common type of psoriasis, plaque psoriasis, leads to the development of raised skin plaques covered with silvery-white or gray scales, often on the elbows Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .
  • Guttate psoriasis: This type of psoriasis can appear on the arms or anywhere on the body, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. It looks like small, discolored spots on the skin.
  • Inverse psoriasis: Inverse psoriasis causes discolored, smooth patches in places where the skin folds, such as the crook of the elbow.
  • Pustular psoriasis: This type of psoriasis causes pus-filled bumps surrounded by discolored skin. It may affect small areas of the body or be widespread.
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis: This type of psoriasis is rare and can affect almost the entire body at once, including the arms.

Some people only have one type, while others may experience more than one at a time.

What causes psoriasis on the arms?

Researchers have not discovered the exact cause of psoriasis, but they do know that atypical immune system activity Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source causes an increase in skin cell production. 

Usually, skin cells grow and fall off the body in a regular cycle. In people with psoriasis, the immune system causes the body to make too many skin cells, which build up on the skin’s surface and create patches or plaques.

Learn more about how psoriasis affects the body.

Additionally, certain factors may increase the risk of psoriasis flare-ups, including:

  • smoking
  • obesity
  • certain medications
  • infection
  • skin injuries
  • stress
  • weather changes

What are the symptoms of psoriasis on the arms?

Psoriasis on the arms often appears as flat, discolored patches or inflamed, thick plaques of skin covered in scales.

People with light skin tones may notice pink or red skin plaques with silvery-white scales. People with dark skin tones may notice darker red, brown, or purple skin plaques with gray scales.

Other symptoms of psoriasis on the arms may include:

  • itchiness
  • pain
  • a sensation of burning
  • fingernail changes, such as ridges or pits in the nails
  • dry skin that might crack or bleed
  • flakiness

Find out what different types of psoriasis can look like.

How can doctors diagnose psoriasis on the arms?

Doctors can often diagnose psoriasis Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source based on a clinical examination. This involves asking you about your symptoms, assessing your medical history, and performing a physical examination.

If it is unclear whether you have psoriasis on your arms, your doctor might take a small skin sample. They will numb the area, remove a small piece of skin, and send it to the lab to determine if it shows the typical markers of psoriasis.

This process helps the doctor confirm if it is psoriasis or another skin condition with similar symptoms.

What are the treatments for psoriasis on the arms?

Treatments for psoriasis on the arms usually aim to slow down skin cell growth, reduce inflammation, and relieve your symptoms. Some treatment options Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source include:

  • Topical treatments: These include creams, ointments, and lotions you apply directly to the skin on your arms. Options might include corticosteroids to lessen itching and inflammation, vitamin D analogs to slow skin cell growth, and retinoids to reduce inflammation.
  • Phototherapy: Your doctor may perform phototherapy treatment, also called light therapy, on the affected areas of your skin. Certain types of UV light can reduce skin cell production and relieve inflammation. This treatment may increase the risk of skin cancer Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , so it may not be appropriate for long-term use.
  • Oral or injectable medications: If the psoriasis on your arms is severe or resists other treatments, your doctor might prescribe medications you take by injection or mouth. These might include retinoids, methotrexate (Jylamvo) to slow skin cell production, or biologics that target the immune system.
  • Lifestyle changes: Your doctor might suggest some ways to modify your routine to help reduce psoriasis symptoms. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol intake, regularly moisturizing your skin, and reducing stress may be beneficial.

Psoriasis on the arms can affect people differently, so what might work for one person might not work for another. Your doctor can help you develop the right treatment plan for you.

Learn more about the stages of psoriasis treatment.

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

Though psoriasis is a chronic condition, you can manage it by carefully following your doctor’s treatment plan. Be sure to report any changes in your symptoms or side effects of treatment to your doctor.

Learn more about 10 common psoriasis medications.

Can psoriasis on the arms cause complications?

Psoriasis on the arms can lead to complications and may increase your risk of experiencing other conditions. For example, some people with psoriasis may develop psoriatic arthritis Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , an inflammatory condition that affects the joints.

Other complications of psoriasis may include:

  • secondary infections due to a weakened skin barrier
  • certain cancers Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , such as lymphoma
  • anxiety and depression

Can you prevent psoriasis on the arms?

There is currently no known way to prevent psoriasis entirely. However, you can minimize your symptoms and prevent flare-ups by following your doctor’s treatment plan and avoiding triggers.

Learn how treating psoriasis can improve your overall health.

Summary

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that may occur from genetic and environmental factors. It can affect many body areas, including the arms.

Depending on your condition’s severity, doctors can typically diagnose psoriasis with a clinical examination and may recommend topical, oral, or injectable medications.

Talk with your doctor about ways to manage psoriasis.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2023 Jul 28
View All Living Well with Psoriasis Articles
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