In many cases, a physical exam is all it takes.
If you think you may have scalp psoriasis—a subtype of plaque psoriasis—getting an official diagnosis is so important, even if your symptoms seem mild and “not a big deal.” Not only can psoriasis affect your quality of life, but it may also be affecting your body in ways you might not realize.
“Psoriasis is really a systemic condition,” says Michelle Henry, MD, dermatologist in New York City and clinical instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College. That means that even though scalp psoriasis manifests on the skin of the scalp and neck, it can cause inflammation throughout the rest of the body. Somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of people with psoriasis also end up developing psoriatic arthritis—when the immune system starts to affect the joints as well.
That’s why getting an accurate diagnosis is essential: to begin treatment, reduce inflammation throughout the body, and prevent the condition from worsening or causing complications of psoriasis.
Here’s what a doctor may do to diagnose scalp psoriasis:
Skin examination: Many times, scalp psoriasis and other types of psoriasis can be diagnosed purely from a physical examination. A primary care doctor or a dermatologist can do a full skin examination to look for evidence of inflammation, silvery scale, and plaques.
Skin biopsy: In some cases, a physician may use a biopsy to diagnose psoriasis and differentiate it from a fungal infection, for example.
Screening for psoriatic arthritis: When any type of psoriasis is expected, it’s encouraged for physicians to assess your joint health. Catching psoriatic arthritis early can help control the progression of the disease and may impact which treatment is best for you. This screening will likely include questions about joint pain, back pain, and morning stiffness.
If you are diagnosed with scalp psoriasis, other types of psoriasis, or psoriatic arthritis, you can begin treatment to get your symptoms under control. Learn more about treatment options for scalp psoriasis here.
“The outlook [for scalp psoriasis] is quite good if you’re with someone who understands psoriasis and is comfortable with walking up the therapeutic ladder,” says Dr. Henry. “We live in a really great time where we can find a treatment that works for you.”
Psoriasis: epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on February 26, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/psoriasis-epidemiology-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis.)
Statistics. Portland, OR: National Psoriasis Foundation. (Accessed on February 26, 2020 at https://www.psoriasis.org/content/statistics.)
Treatment of psoriasis in adults. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on February 26, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-psoriasis-in-adults.)