Kim Kardashian took a break from photo shoots and celebrity engagements to visit her dermatologist on Sunday night's episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." After finding red, flaky patches of skin on her legs, Dr. Harold Lancer diagnosed the reality star with psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder that causes rapid skin cell growth that can manifest itself as thick silvery scales and itchy dry red patches on the skin.
"People don't understand the pressure on me to look perfect," Kardashian said on the show. "When I gain a pound, it's in the headlines. Imagine what the tabloids would do to me if they saw all these spots?"
Lancer suggested that she "lead an easier, slower paced life."
"That's just not possible," she replied.
Catie Coman, director of communications for the National Psoriasis Foundation, empathized with the reality star.
"The population can often be very cruel because they think the disease is contagious or has to do with being dirty," said Coman, who noted that LeAnn Rimes also battled the condition. "Celebrities with psoriasis are under intense pressure, and stress is a trigger for psoriasis."
Most types of psoriasis go through cycles in which the condition flares up for a few weeks or months, then subsides for a period of time.
"Once you're diagnosed with it, you don't know how often or severe you're going to get it," said Dr. Lawrence Green, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist and member of the board of trustees at the National Psoriasis Foundation. "She can try different treatments and see how they keep the rash at bay. You just have to wait and see."
Kardashian is one of 7.5 million Americans who have the disorder, which can range from a mild skin rash to a debilitating condition. Experts say smoking, alcohol and high stress levels can contribute to outbreaks. Obesity, stress, viral and bacterial infections such as HIV and, most significantly, a family history, put a person at an increased risk of psoriasis. About 30 percent of psoriasis patients will be diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a chronic condition that causes pain and stiffness in the joints.
Kardashian's mother was diagnosed with psoriasis at the age of 30.
"I'd heard of it before because my mom has always had it, but she didn't have red flaky dots all over her," Kardashian told Life and Style Weekly.
Kardashian's publicist did not return requests for comment, but from watching the short clip of Kardashian at the doctor's, Green said her psoriasis patches could probably be treated with an ointment or excimer laser, a type of ultraviolet light that slows skin cell growth.
"Psoriasis comes in three different levels of severity, and it depends on the level of severity that dictates treatment," said Coman.
Creams and ointments can successfully treat mild to moderate psoriasis outbreaks, while injections, ultraviolet light lasers and oral medications are available for more serious outbreaks.
"People with psoriasis should know that they don't have to live with it," said Green. "It can be very well treated. They just have to take those first steps and go see a dermatologist."