The word “psoriasis” comes from the Greek word “psōra,” which means “itch.” Although most known for the scaly patches it leaves on the skin and nails, psoriasis can also include joint pain and swelling. It can be made worse by infection, stress, or cold. Coping with both psoriasis and menopause can be even more challenging. But there is hope. Here are three women’s stories.
Always See the Silver Lining
By Brenda Echevarria, as told to Michele Jordan
My job as a dialysis tech is to take care of people. I love it — I love making sure people are in a safe environment. I’ve been in this job for more than 20 years, and I take it seriously. If I make a mistake, someone can lose their life. But what many people don’t know about me is that I’m dealing with my own health problems.
I was diagnosed with psoriasis in 2002, but I’ve been having issues since I was a child. I would get red, scaly patches on my body when I was growing up, but no one knew what it was back then. My brother had the same issues. We just went on with our lives. Most of the time, I thought I just had a problem with my shampoo.
About 20 years ago, as I was starting this job that I love, I began having more issues with my skin. My nails were pitted and my joints were hurting. The problems seemed to get worse when I was stressed out. I started noticing more spots on my legs and breasts, and I finally decided to talk to a doctor. I saw a dermatologist, and he said it was psoriasis.
For years I did OK with a topical cream. I even had a pharmacy tech friend suggest I try a Dominican soap and to bathe with cooler water, which also helped. My symptoms would come and go, but right around my early to mid-40s when I was going through menopause, things got much worse. My skin just exploded with rashes. I was in more pain. I wasn’t sleeping well. My hot flashes from menopause were causing my skin to itch all the time. I started noticing more joint pain, and I needed to take off more days from work. I started to do my own research and learned about the connection between my hormone changes and my symptoms.
What I can control
My body has been going through a lot, but I know I can work to improve my health. I have been trying to eat better — less junk food, more salads. I’ve stopped drinking as much soda and drink mostly water. I have noticed more energy and that I’m able to move around a little better. I’m trying to walk more. I love walking.
I also take a lot more time for myself. I realize I can’t worry about everyone else’s problems and also take care of myself, so I have to be a little selfish sometimes. Even with my health issues, there are still things that make me smile. My daughter recently graduated at the top of her high school class. I still enjoy a good horror movie or vampire book. I’ve also found a community online that supports me. My online friends encourage me to go ahead and wear shorts, show off my legs — psoriasis and all!
I have a 10-year-old nephew with psoriasis, and I’m trying to show him that you can be happy and confident with psoriasis. He’s gone from covering up his arms in the hot summer to wearing short sleeves proudly. I want to show my nephew and others dealing with psoriasis that there is a silver lining. You have to roll with the punches sometimes, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Be Your Own Advocate
By Angie Fisher, as told to Michele Jordan
I was diagnosed with psoriasis in 1987 when I was in my late 30s. It started on my heels, and I didn’t know what was going on. I went to the dermatologist, and he prescribed steroid creams. Then I started getting scaly patches on my hands. He suggested I apply the cream and then wrap my hands and feet with cling wrap. That was an interesting experience!
I knew I had a history of psoriasis on my father’s side, but it was still all a lot to digest. My patches calmed down for a few years, and then my index and middle finger started hurting. I thought it was from repetitive use. As a CT scan tech, I have to help patients on and off the bed and use my hands a lot.
On top of that, I also started having horrible back pain, and the patches came back on my elbows and the back of my ears. My dermatologist referred me to a rheumatologist, and he added psoriatic arthritis to my list. The upside to all of that was that the medications he prescribed for my arthritis helped with my skin.
Some lows, some highs
My symptoms calmed down for a bit but came back strong as I entered menopause The insomnia was tough, and my skin got worse again. Because my conditions impact my immune system, I continue to wear a face mask everywhere during the pandemic even though I’m vaccinated.
Because of the arthritis medication I take, I have to get blood work regularly to make sure my liver is OK. Dealing with this on top of lower back and hip pain when I try to walk more than 5 minutes has not been easy. I’ve had my psoriasis flare in visible areas like my hairline and at the corner of my eyes and eyebrows — which doesn’t look good with makeup at all.
I have found a few things that have made my life easier. I take hot baths, which helps my joints loosen a bit. I want to do more work on my diet. I tried an anti-inflammatory diet a while ago for about 2 weeks, and I noticed a difference. I reduced dairy and sugar, but sugar is in everything! It was challenging, but I want to try that diet again.
When my pain is at its worst, I’m grateful for my support system. Psychologically, psoriasis and menopause can take a toll on your quality of life. I’m so glad I can talk to my mom about what I’m going through, and my co-workers really look out for me.
Both days and nights can get bad, but I find joy in yoga, walking when I can, scrapbooking, and going out for a girls’ night here and there. I’ve also been blessed with really good doctors. I tell everyone, if you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor and they aren’t answering your questions, it’s OK to make a change. You have to be your own advocate.
I’m Still Active
By Sherri Fogelman, as told to Michele Jordan
I never knew my love for teaching and passion for nutrition would change my life. I started a nutritional coaching business a few years ago, and I help women who are coping with various illnesses and menopause. I’ve had to use that same knowledge on myself since being diagnosed with psoriasis in my early 40s.
Growing up, I had scaly patches on my skin, but no one knew what it was. As I got older, I would notice an increase in them when I was stressed out. I’m an empty nester now, but when my kids were young, I couldn’t easily go to the beach with them or ride with the air conditioning on in the car because damp or cool air made my joints hurt. My doctor put me on indomethacin, which helped my joints, but the skin issues didn’t go away.
I was on medicine for more than 10 years. Then menopause hit. My symptoms got extreme. It was around this time that I knew I had to make a change. I cut out refined sugar and gluten and noticed a big difference. If I had sugar, my skin patches would get worse.
Then I started researching more about the connection between food and illness. I kind of did it backward. I changed my diet. I saw that it worked, and then I found the research to back it up. It was in my 50s with menopause raging that I began to see some real relief. My symptoms started to improve. I was able to keep up with my tennis, and I was overall feeling better.
I don’t just focus on food either. I also see a lot of benefits focusing on stress and sleep. I think the two go hand in hand. I’m serious about sleep hygiene and encourage my clients to focus there too. Good sleep hygiene means setting the stage for sleep — meditating, turning off the TV and phone, and not drinking too much tea.
Menopause is stressful. There’s a lot happening to your body. You’re aging. Your parents and in-laws are aging. It can be a lot. I’ve learned through the years that my skin can be an indication of my overall health. The good news is there are things that are free that can help, and that’s in my control.