Dr. Sam Hanna
Medical Director, Dermatology on Bloor
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to grow at a faster-than-normal rate, leading to an over-production and build-up of cells, resulting in itchy, scaly, and painful red patches (known as plaques) on the skin. The most common form of psoriasis effects the skin on the scalp, knees, elbows and lower back. Psoriasis can also appear on male and female genitals.
Fighting the stigma
“Genital psoriasis is a type of psoriasis many people just don’t want to talk about, but absolutely should,” says Dr. Sam Hanna, a Toronto-based dermatologist and medical director of Dermatology on Bloor. “The embarrassment around genital psoriasis causes some with the disease to stay silent, preventing them from accessing fast and effective treatments from their doctor. It’s important for patients to speak up.”
Many of the patients Dr. Hanna sees have only come to him because their condition has become unbearable. “A disease that can show up on the penis, scrotum, vulva, and perineum, may cause feelings of shame, low self-esteem and an avoidance of intimacy,” notes Dr. Hanna.
I didn’t want to tell anyone what was happening — not my doctor, not my mother, not even my friends.Sonya, 34-year-old psoriasis patient
The physical and emotional cost
The impact of having a disease on someone’s genital area can have a profoundly negative impact on his or her quality of life.
“There have been significant advancements in the type of medications available to treat the symptoms of genital psoriasis quickly,” says Dr. Hanna. If left untreated, a person will continue to suffer with the itchy and painful plaques on their genitals, an area where skin tends to be extremely sensitive and thinner than other parts of the body. Even everyday activities like sitting and walking can become very uncomfortable.
Sonya, a 34-year-old from the Greater Toronto Area, has been living with psoriasis for 12 years. She, like many patients, struggled starting the conversation with her physician. “I didn’t want to tell anyone what was happening — not my doctor, not my mother, not even my friends. I was scared to start intimate relationships, and I was constantly uncomfortable,” she says. “I waited longer than I’d like to admit, but the uncomfortable conversation with my doctor was worth the relief in the end.”
“I think that the biggest message is, don’t let the location of genital psoriasis make you embarrassed,” says Dr. Hanna. “Treatments are available. Discuss it with your primary care doctor. If they don’t have the answers, they can suggest a referral to a dermatologist. There is help available.”
6 Facts About Genital Psoriasis
Genital health is important to a person’s overall health, so it is important they contact their physician at the first sign of anything unusual.
1. The signs. You may experience itching, redness, soreness or inflamed plaques.
2. More common than we realize. An estimated one million Canadians have psoriasis and of those people, up to 63% may experience genital psoriasis at some point.
3. Misdiagnosis is common. Symptoms may lead to a misdiagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease. Subsequently, the drugs prescribed will have limited
or no effect.
4. Many suffer in silence. People living with the disease avoid speaking to their doctors about their symptoms due to embarrassment, which can lead to low self-esteem.
5. It’s not contagious. It cannot be transmitted sexually from one partner to another, yet it can still have a detrimental effect on intimacy and sexual activity.
6. Effective treatments are available. Medication for psoriasis are available that can treat your entire body and quickly, including the genitals. Talk to your doctor to determine what the most appropriate treatment options are for you.
Patient name has been changed for privacy.
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