A Surprising Diagnosis

An innocent case of flaky scalp turns out to be psoriasis

Kerry King, 29, of Salt Lake City, had just switched to a different shampoo when she noticed that her scalp was starting to flake and itch. Thinking she must be allergic to the new product, she went back to her former shampoo, but her symptoms worsened. “My scalp started to crack and bleed,” King recalls. “Then I noticed raised patches on my elbows and I realized I needed to see a dermatologist.”

The diagnosis, plaque psoriasis, surprised King because no one in her family—not even her identical-twin sister—had ever had the condition, which is linked to genetics. “I’m convinced that in my case it was brought on by anxiety,” says King. “I was in a really stressful job at the time, working in customer service at a call center, and I wasn’t managing it well. It was taking a toll on me.”

Over the next year, King’s psoriasis spread so quickly that she was noticing new lesions every week. Ultimately the red plaques covered about 80 percent of her body, and were even on her face. In addition, she developed psoriatic arthritis, chronic joint inflammation that commonly affects the fingers and toes. “For years I didn’t have much of a social life,” says King. “Psoriasis is an ugly disease, and it’s very personal. I had trouble even talking about it. If people at work asked me what the red patches on my skin were, I would make up an answer and say they were from carpet burn or something else that didn’t make sense.”

Getting Her Life Back

Over the next eight years, King tried different therapies with varying success. She was able to get the psoriasis on her scalp under control with a medicine called clobetasol propionate (Clobex), but the psoriasis on the rest of her skin was trickier. She used a variety of topical medications, as well as light therapy. “Those treatments lessened my psoriasis until it affected just 50 to 60 percent of my body, but that was still a lot to deal with,” says King. “Then, two years ago, I started taking the biologic medication Enbrel, and it has changed my life. Now my psoriasis affects only about 5 to 10 percent of my body—on my elbows, knees and behind my ears. The medication has given me my life back. I no longer say no to social outings. I’m dating, and I feel like I’m making up for the years I lost to the disease.”

King also found a less anxiety-provoking job, and has become better at managing stress, partly by exercising six days a week (on weekdays she works out at her company’s on-site gym). To round out her psoriasis-squashing lifestyle, she gets enough sleep and watches her diet. “I’ve learned that fried foods and pork tend to aggravate my psoriasis, so I avoid them and try to stick to a ‘cleaner’ diet with lots of salads and fresh fruits,” she says.

Silent No More

King has also gotten more comfortable talking about psoriasis. Last year, she joined a group coordinated by the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), and went with her new peers to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators in an effort to raise funding for psoriasis research. “It was weird, because psoriasis was something I had dealt with by myself for so long, and here I was meeting all these other people who had it and were talking openly about it,” she says. “It was empowering and motivating to be part of that. My advice to other women with psoriasis is, first of all, get as much information as you can. Go to the NPF website[ LINK TO: www.psoriasis.org], find a dermatologist who is up to date on the latest research and treatments, see if you can connect with others in your community with psoriasis and, most of all, keep trying different treatments until you find the one that works for you.”

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