What is psoriatic arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that causes swelling and pain in joints and the places where tendons and ligaments attach to bones. Most people who develop psoriatic arthritis already have psoriasis (a skin disease), but a small number have joint pain before the skin rash.
Who gets psoriatic arthritis?
Anyone can get psoriatic arthritis, but it is most common in adults, affecting men and women equally.
Most people who get it already have psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis usually develops about 7 to 10 years after skin symptoms begin. You may be more likely to get psoriatic arthritis if you:
- Are obese.
- Have severe psoriasis.
- Experience stress, joint or bone injuries, or infection.
What are the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis?
Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis are different for each person. They may include:
- Scaly, inflamed patches of skin, often on the scalp, elbows, or knees.
- Joint stiffness, pain, and swelling of one or more joints.
- Feeling tired often (fatigue) or having a lack of energy.
- Tenderness in areas where tendons or ligaments attach to bones. The back of the heel and sole of the foot are commonly affected spots.
- Painful, sausage-like swelling of a whole finger or toe.
- Nail changes, such as tiny dents or crumbling. Nails can also separate from the nail bed.
- Eye inflammation, especially inflammation of the middle layer of the eye. This condition can cause eye pain, redness, and blurry vision, which must be treated as soon as possible to avoid vision loss.
- Inflammatory bowel disease, which causes inflammation in the digestive tract.
What causes psoriatic arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis can happen when your immune system overacts and causes problems. Doctors know that certain factors may trigger your immune system, causing the disease. These factors include:
- Genes: Many people who get psoriatic arthritis have a family history of the disease.
- Environment: Some factors may trigger the disease, such as:
Is there a test for psoriatic arthritis?
Although there is no one test for psoriatic arthritis, your doctor may do the following to see if you have the condition:
- Ask if you have a family history of psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis.
- Talk to you about your symptoms and give you a physical exam.
- Take a blood sample to check for other conditions.
- Order imaging tests.
How is psoriatic arthritis treated?
Treatment of psoriatic arthritis continues to improve. Your treatment depends on your symptoms and how bad they are.
Milder forms of the disease may be treated with:
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain medications.
- Injections of strong inflammation-fighting drugs into the affected joints.
More severe disease may be treated by other types of prescription medications.
Who treats psoriatic arthritis?
Health care providers who treat psoriatic arthritis include:
- Rheumatologists, who specialize in arthritis, including psoriatic arthritis, and other diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles.
- Dermatologists, who specialize in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails.
- Physiatrists (rehabilitation specialists) who supervise exercise programs.
- Occupational therapists, who teach ways to protect joints, lessen pain, perform activities of daily living, and conserve energy.
- Physical therapists, who help to improve joint function.
- Primary health care providers, including family doctors, internists, and pediatricians, who treat problems as they arise and coordinate care between the different specialized health care providers.
- Dietitians, who teach about nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight.
Living with psoriatic arthritis
Having psoriatic arthritis can affect your day-to-day life, but there are things you can do to help:
- If you smoke, make a plan to quit. Some studies have shown that smoking makes symptoms worse.
- Maintain a healthy weight to place less strain on your joints.
- Try low-impact activities such as walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, or tai chi. Talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Protect your joints, such as by pushing open a door with your whole body instead of just your fingers.
- Consider joining a support group or seek counseling, which can help you learn more about coping and living with the disease.