Alisha Bridges has lived with Plaque Psoriasis (PsO) and Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA) for almost three decades. At seven years old, she started experiencing itchy, flaky, inflamed skin, which led to a diagnosis of plaque Psoriasis during a time when public awareness about PsO was minimal. Alisha encountered a barrage of stigma and misconceptions about her skin and struggled with low self-esteem throughout her youth and adolescence.
Since then, she has dedicated her entire life to health advocacy. Her most notable work comes from volunteering with The National Psoriasis Foundation. She also had the privilege of speaking with members of Congress to advocate health legislation for PsO research. Feeling empowered by supporting the education of people about PsO, she continues to raise awareness about the disease. She discusses these topics on her website, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
I had a great opportunity to interview Alisha Bridges; she has given great information and insight into what it is like to have PsO and PsA. As we spoke, the information was very helpful and insightful, and it has opened my eyes to certain things that I didn’t know about treatments. Her journey is amazing, as you will read.
Q: Could you personally explain to me what has been your experience with psoriasis? I know the information that I read said you were diagnosed at seven.
A: Yes. I was first diagnosed with psoriasis after a bad case of chickenpox at seven years old. My grandmother noticed that the scars that you typically get with chickenpox were kind of manifesting into something else. So she took me to the dermatologist, and they confirmed that I had plaque psoriasis. So I’ve had psoriasis for almost three decades now.
I was 90% covered, probably up until maybe seven years ago. And then, when I was a teenager, and even on and off now, I typically deal with joint pain, especially in my lower back and knees. And I remember being a teenager living in Michigan, where the weather’s really cold, and sometimes waking up with this pain in my knee like fluid was on top of it. Not even realizing that even at that time, I was dealing with PsA. So, it’s been a journey.
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Q: I know it’s a hereditary disease. My mother has scalp psoriasis, so my siblings and I have had it since birth. Does anyone in your family have psoriasis?
A: On my father’s side, I have a cousin who has scalp psoriasis, and I think he dealt with it as a teenager. I still talk to him today. And I don’t think his psoriasis is as bad as it was when he was younger, but it’s definitely in my family.
I let Alisha know that I, too, had the same experience with my scalp psoriasis being worse when I was younger; I also mentioned to her that I have flare-ups, like every time I get pregnant, for some reason afterward with the hormone change and the weather, it goes to my face. Then, I lose hair in these two spots around my hairline. She informed me that she typically hears the opposite. Many women say they have psoriasis, and it kind of goes away once they get pregnant. So that’s interesting that it’s almost the opposite.
Q: So, you said you have both plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, right?
A: My psoriatic arthritis is mild, and then my PsO, when I’m not on effective treatment, is severe. I’m about 90% covered.
Q: Right. What is kind of the signs and symptoms that people can notice to go get checked out before it gets worse, like you’re saying, 90% covered?
A: Well, sometimes that’s hard to know because sometimes what happens is a sickness, environmental factor, or some type of stressor that can make it hit you dramatically all at once. Everybody’s experience is different. Sometimes it is a gradual flare, but for others, it is severe right off the bat. So I would say with plaque psoriasis, you will have dry, itchy, inflamed patches of skin. And this is typically covered with scaly patches, which will present differently depending on your skin tone. They can usually appear anywhere on the body, but typically on knees, elbows, and skin folds.
With PsA, it can start as pain in your fingers, your feet, your lower back, your elbows, and even your neck. It tends to happen in the larger joints. Some people will have pain here or there, and then if they don’t get it checked out, it could gradually get worse. This is especially happening with younger people because we tend to say, “Oh, well, maybe I worked out too much,” or “I lifted that box incorrectly”. We put every excuse on it other than saying; you know what, this could be arthritis. It’s taboo to be a young person and have joint-related issues.
Q: I read 30%of people with Psoriasis do develop psoriatic arthritis. So, what’s the connection between the two? How does PsO transform into PsA?
A: They’re both autoimmune diseases that affect the skin and joints, and those go hand in hand. When your immune system is