4 Benefits of Tracking Your Psoriasis Symptoms
Although there’s no cure for psoriasis, many different treatments and self-care practices can relieve symptoms. Treatments range from topical medications applied directly to the skin to phototherapy and even systemic treatments (oral or injected medications that target inflammation throughout the whole body). Your treatment will likely depend heavily on the severity of your condition.
“Sometimes, psoriasis can be quiet and easy to control, while at other times your skin can flare, leading to more psoriasis and more symptoms,” says Tina Bhutani, M.D., psoriasis community expert and co-director of the Psoriasis and Skin Treatment Center at the University of California San Francisco.
The trick—and, indeed, the challenge—is to find what works best for you, because everybody is different. And in some cases, a treatment can work for months or even years, and then stop working. Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s a common part of the process and a possible sign that it may be time to try something new.
So what’s “success” when it comes to treating psoriasis? Everybody has their own personal goals, but as a guide, the National Psoriasis Foundation recommends that doctors set a goal of either reducing a patient’s psoriasis down to a total body surface of 1 percent or less, or achieving a 75-percent reduction in psoriasis symptoms within three months of starting the treatment. This recommendation is based on the results of a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (One percent of body surface equals about the size of the palm of your hand.)
Whatever your psoriasis treatment goals, regular consultations with your dermatologist will help you figure out how well your current plan is working. Between appointments, tracking your symptoms on your own will help you stick to your treatment plan and give you a feeling of control over your disease, which can be a huge mental-health boost.
Know What’s Helping and What Isn’t
“Tracking your symptoms can help you determine if your current treatment regimen is helping—or helping enough,” says Susan Bard, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Vive Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York.
Bhutani and Bard say they always recommend introducing one intervention at a time to help determine its efficacy. If you start a new treatment and make a few lifestyle adjustments at the same time, you might see an improvement in your symptoms. That’s great news—but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s responsible for the change for the better. “If your skin improves, it will be impossible to know what was responsible for the improvement and you’ll end up having to continue all of the treatments long-term,” Bhutani explains. Also, she likes to minimize treatment as much possible to make it easier to fit into her patients’ lifestyle.
See Signs It’s Time to Try Something New
Generally, Bhutani and Bard advise sticking to a new treatment or self-care practice for three months before ruling it out and moving onto something else—with one exception. “If you feel you’re getting worse rather than better, I recommend switching therapies sooner,” Bard says.
If your symptoms aren’t improving, or are getting worse, Bard says that’s a clear sign that it’s time to move on. Chalk it up to experience, and try not to dwell on it.
“If a patient is experiencing joint pain, fatigue, or other signs of psoriatic arthritis, this may also be a sign that a different therapy is indicated,” Bhutani adds. Psoriatic arthritis is a progressive condition, meaning it may get worse with time, thus early intervention is crucial as delays in care may lead to further worsening of disease.
Look for Triggers
Another big benefit of tracking your symptoms is determining what your personal triggers are. Although not everybody with psoriasis has triggers, some people find that things like stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, smoking, and weight gain can lead to a flare, Bhutani says. Knowing exactly when symptoms have worsened or improved makes it easier to connect them with any environmental or lifestyle factors.
Notice Changes, No Matter How Subtle or Slow
Often, trying a new psoriasis treatment or a lifestyle modification can be disheartening. “Even the most powerful prescription drugs can take many weeks to take effect,” Bhutani says. And slow changes aren’t always noticeable day to day. But if you track your symptoms, you may more easily see small improvements that you might otherwise have missed. And as everyone with psoriasis knows, even small improvements are a reason to celebrate.
You can use anything to track your symptoms, including good old pen and paper. Of course, we recommend our Symptom Diary to keep all that important information in one place and easily accessible from your phone or tablet. You can log your symptoms as often as you wish, whether that’s once a day, once a week—or whenever you remember. Simply select a date, then input any new symptoms you’re experiencing on particular body parts, such as your elbows, arms, knees, or scalp. You can also estimate how much of your skin is affected, and rank itch and other symptoms’ severity as “none,” “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe.” To give yourself a clear visual comparison of how your psoriasis changes over time, there’s also the option to add photos. Your personal Symptom Diary is saved in your (private) profile, meaning you can look back any time to see exactly how much progress you’ve made.
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