Help for psoriasis sufferers

February 26, 2009 3:14:48 PM PST
There is new hope for people who suffer from psoriasis, an irritating and sometimes painful skin condition. The new treatment is a simple ointment, rubbed on the skin, containing vitamin D. It can be used by itself, or along with other treatments.

It looks like a standup tanning booth, and it uses ultraviolet light. But to Ed Vessel, exposing his whole body to UV rays is not cosmetic. UV light is the treatment for the psoriasis that covers his body. And after light treatment, Ed is using a new ointment to treat it.

"It's nice to have something that you can use every day to help the really bad spots from getting worse," he said.

Ed took part in one of the first studies of Vectical ointment. It can be used long-term instead of cortisone creams, which are only short-term fixes. The ointment contains vitamin D that slows the too-rapid growth of skin cells that causes psoriasis skin patches.

The ointment is good for mild to moderate psoriasis. For severe psoriasis sufferers, who also take other drugs to treat their condition, Vectical can also be used on their problem spots.

But ointments are a greasy way to go.

"At night, I tell patients to use only pajamas," said Dr. Mark Lebwohl, of the Mount Sinai Medical Center. "In the day, I'll have them leave it on as long as they can and wipe it off."

However, ointments hold water in the skin, and that's great for Ed's dry skin plaques.

"Even though they are a bit sticky, that kind of vaseliney quality just helps keep the skin more moisturized," he said.

The drug has undergone five years of testing and has shown few side effects.

It can be used on the thin skin of the face, armpits and groin which are common areas for psoriasis, unlike other treatments like vitamin D ointments.

"They were not well tolerated, whereas Vectical is very well tolerated in those areas and seems to work well in those areas," says Dr. Lebwohl.

Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays may limit the ointments effectiveness. But according to Dr. Lebwohl, even patients who had sun exposure had good results with the treatment.

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