What are systemic medications for psoriasis?

Systemic treatments are medications taken internally, either as a pill or an injection. Aside from corticosteroids, most systemic treatments for psoriasis work by suppressing the immune system, which reduces the inflammation and excess cell turnover that causes lesions. Although immunosuppressants can cause severe side effects, they may be effective against persistent psoriasis that doesn't respond to milder treatments. The drugs used include methotrexate, cyclosporine, and hydroxyurea.

A group of biologic agents, known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers -- first used for treating rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease -- also appear to help psoriasis. These highly targeted drugs go after specific proteins involved in inflammation that may cause psoriasis symptoms. This targeting makes them less harmful than medications that weaken the entire immune system. Unfortunately, they're expensive, and many insurance plans do not cover TNF blockers (such as infliximab and etanercept) because of their high cost.

Antibiotics and oral retinoids also may be prescribed. Antibiotics do not affect psoriasis directly but may be used when psoriasis flare-ups are triggered by bacterial infection. Retinoids are vitamin A-like compounds that can be used either externally or internally. If you are pregnant or may become pregnant within 3 years, avoid using retinoids in any form.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.