Psoriasis Myths, Stigmas Abound

Thursday, August 30, 2018 | Psoriasis , Research and Publications


Stigmatizing views and myths about psoriasis are pervasive among the general population and medical students in the United States, according to multidisciplinary research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The study also found false perceptions about psoriasis continue to persist, including the belief that psoriasis is contagious and that it is not a serious illness.

“Although it’s widely recognized that the appearance of psoriasis can negatively impact patients’  social, professional, and intimate relationships, we wanted to quantify the perceptions patients with psoriasis face on a daily basis in order to understand how pervasive they are,” says the study’s senior author Joel M. Gelfand, MD MSCE, a professor of Dermatology and Epidemiology at Penn, in a news release. Rebecca L. Pearl, PhD, an assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, was the lead author of the study.

Researchers used Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a web-based data collection service, to survey people about their perceptions of individuals with psoriasis. They also sent the survey directly to several hundred medical students. In all, 198 laypeople responded on MTurk and 187 medical students completed the emailed survey. All participants were shown images of people with psoriasis as well as close-up photos of psoriasis lesions.

Overall, 54 percent of laypeople who responded said they did not want to date someone with psoriasis. Thirty-nine percent said they did not want to shake hands with someone suffering from the disease, while 32 percent said they did not want to have someone with psoriasis in their homes. Respondents also endorsed several stereotypes about people with psoriasis, with 57 percent saying they were insecure, 53 percent saying they were sick, 45 percent saying they were unattractive, and 27 percent saying they were contagious. Medical students demonstrated less stigmatizing views compared to the MTurk group. Among MTurk participants, those who knew someone with psoriasis or had heard of psoriasis demonstrated less stigmatizing attitudes.

“It’s possible that better education about the disease, as well as contact with individuals with psoriasis, may help to dispel myths and stereotypes and reduce negative perceptions,” Dr. Pearl says.

The researchers stressed the need for further research with a larger sample size before drawing any definitive conclusions. However, they said the findings do have implications for both public health and patient care.

“Future studies should evaluate the effects of education campaigns on people’s attitudes toward those with psoriasis, as well as efforts to incorporate patients with psoriasis into general medical education for physicians and other health care providers,” Dr. Gelfand says.

Additional Penn co-authors on the study were Junko Takeshita, MD, PhD, MSCE, an assistant professor of Dermatology and Epidemiology, and Marilyn T. Wan, MBChB, MPH, a post-doctoral research fellow in Gelfand’s lab.

This study was supported by a grant from the Edwin & Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Pearl and Takeshita receive funding from the National Institutes of Health, and Wan receives funding from the National Psoriasis Foundation.

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