Other Psoriasis Treatments

Oral (systemic) treatment of psoriasis may be used in severe cases. Several therapies are available, including acitretin (Soriatane), an oral retinoid. This drug can be used alone or in combination with ultraviolet light therapy. Blood tests are performed regularly during treatment to monitor for side effects, which can include elevated levels of cholesterol and blood lipids (fats), and liver irritation. This drug is contraindicated in women who are pregnant and in those who intend to become pregnant within 3 years of discontinuing treatment.

Methotrexate, which inhibits cell proliferation, may be administered weekly to treat severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. During treatment, daily supplementation with vitamins and 1 to 5 mg of folic acid is recommended to reduce the risk for anemia and nausea caused by the medication. Regular blood tests are also performed during treatment to detect liver inflammation. After 1–1.5 grams of the drug has been administered, a liver biopsy may be performed to detect abnormalities not apparent in blood tests.

Cyclosporine (Neoral) also may be used to treat psoriasis. During this treatment, kidney function and cholesterol levels are monitored using blood tests.

Mycophenolate mofetil is an imunosuppressant that may be used. This medication is typically less effective than other drugs, but it is safe for long-term use. Maintaining a daily dosage under 3 grams minimizes side effects such as low white blood cell count (neutropenia). Routine blood tests are performed during treatment.

Alefacept (Amevive) is an immunosuppressant used to treat moderate to severe psoriasis. This medication is given by injection or administered intravenously (through an IV) once a week, for 12 weeks. In some cases, the course is repeated.

Alefacept inhibits the production of overactive T cells, which can cause psoriasis, without impeding normal immune system function. T cell are a critical component of the immune system, and T cell counts are routinely monitored during the course of treatment.

Patients with compromised immune systems due to disease or medication and those undergoing phototherapy should not take alefacept. This medication should be used with caution in patients with a history of metastatic cancer or chronic infections.

Side effects include the following:

  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Increased risk for infection and cancer
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Pain, itching, and inflammation (redness) at the injection site
  • Sore throat

Efalizumab (Raptiva) is a once-weekly injection approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat moderate-to-severe psoriasis in people over the age of 18. This medication, which suppresses the immune system, may increase the risk for serious infections (e.g., bacterial sepsis, viral meningitis, fungal infection). Raptiva also may cause a life-threatening infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). Patients who are taking this drug and develop symptoms of PML (e.g., confusion, dizziness, loss of balance, vision loss, weakness, excessive bleeding or bruising) should seek immediate medical attention.

Raptiva Effective for Overweight Patients

There's good news for overweight psoriasis patients, who are typically harder to treat than people of average weight for several reasons: they are prone to larger lesions, they often have skin folds that make it difficult to use phototherapy and topical creams, and they are more likely to have other diseases that restrict their use of certain oral medications.

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that the injectable drug Raptiva (efalizumab) is as safe for use in patients over 200 pounds as it is in those who weigh less than 200 pounds.

Adalimumab (Humira) is another prescription medication approved to treat moderate to severe chronic plaque psoriasis in adults. This medicine, which is used in patients who are under the care of a physician, may be helpful for those who experience red, scaly skin over several areas of the body. Adalimumab affects the body's immune system and may cause serious infections, resulting from bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

In January 2015, the FDA approved secukinumab (Cosentyx) to treat moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis in adults. This drug is an antibody that binds to a specific protein involved in inflammation (interleukin [IL]-17A), preventing the protein from binding to its receptor and inhibiting its ability to trigger an inflammatory response.

Secukinumab is administered as an injection in adults with psoriasis who are candidates for systemic therapy, phototherapy, or both. Common side effects include diarrhea and upper respiratory infections. Severe allergic reactions may occur and patients using the drug may have an increase risk for serious infections.

There are several ongoing investigations for biologic treatment of severe psoriasis. Initial trials with anti-CD 11a are promising. This medication, given by injection, modulates the immune system's activity, thus resolving psoriasis plaques.

Spicy Psoriasis Treatment No Better than Placebo

Given the potential side effects of some current psoriasis drugs (including the risk of infection and malignancies), it's no wonder more than half of psoriasis patients turn to complementary and alternative therapies to treat this chronic skin disease.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in the Indian spice turmeric, showed promising results in one study, but new research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine is now calling those findings into question. While a few patients saw an improvement in symptoms after orally ingesting turmeric, the UPenn scientists believe the placebo effect or spontaneous remission might be the reason. Until more extensive, placebo-controlled studies are conducted, say the researchers, oral curcumin is not recommended for the treatment of psoriasis.

Psoriasis Prevention

At this time, not enough is known about psoriasis to prevent its occurrence. Patients who have experienced a psoriasis flare-up with strep throat should be treated using antibiotics at the first sign of infection.

For more information, contact the National Psoriasis Foundation at www.psoriasis.org.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2000

Last Modified: 20 Oct 2015