Psoriatic arthritis is a skin condition that affects about 30% of people who have psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. If you have this condition or know someone who does, learning more about psoriatic arthritis can help you better understand what to expect while living with this disorder. Start by researching what psoriatic arthritis is, what causes it and what symptoms typically show up with this condition.
What Are Arthritis and Psoriasis?
To understand psoriatic arthritis, it helps to learn about arthritis and psoriasis, which are the two conditions involved in psoriatic arthritis. Although you might think of it as one health issue, “arthritis” is a general term that refers to a type of joint pain. There are actually more than 100 different types of arthritis, and people of all ages, races and genders can develop these conditions, notes the Arthritis Foundation. You may be familiar with osteoarthritis, which is one of the most common forms. Arthritis usually occurs in older adults and may, depending on the type, develop when the cartilage in joints wears away, causing the bones in the joints to rub on one another. This causes the joints to feel stiff, swollen and painful.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes flareups, which means the affected skin develops scaly, itchy, red patches called plaques. These patches may flare for a few weeks or months and then disappear completely, and they most frequently appear on people’s scalps, torsos, elbows and knees. Like arthritis, there are many different forms of psoriasis. Doctors believe this condition may be related to people’s immune systems not working the way they normally would and causing skin to regenerate at a faster-than-normal rate, which results in the buildup of dry, painful skin plaques.
What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that develops in people who already have psoriasis and then develop arthritis symptoms. This isn’t the common form of arthritis that results from joint wear and tear over time, however. It’s also related to your immune system. With this form of arthritis that worsens with psoriasis flareups, doctors believe an abnormal immune response causes your body’s immune system to start attacking healthy cells. When this happens, it can cause widespread inflammation in your joints (the arthritis component) and make your skin produce many new skin cells at a quick rate (the psoriasis element). When all the symptoms happen concurrently, it’s considered one condition: psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis does have a few associated risk factors. The number-one factor that increases your likelihood of developing this condition is if you already have psoriasis. Surprisingly, your fingernails may also hold clues about whether you may get psoriatic arthritis. If you have psoriasis and also have pitted, dented or deformed nails, your chances of developing psoriatic arthritis are particularly elevated.
Age and family history also play roles as risk factors for psoriatic arthritis. If you have a parent or sibling who has this condition, you’re more likely to get it as well. Many of the people who develop psoriatic arthritis are between ages 30 and 50. While being in this age group doesn’t necessarily make you more likely to develop the condition, if you’re predisposed to getting it, this is likely the period in your life when you’ll first begin experiencing symptoms.
Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis
This type of arthritis can affect joints anywhere on your body, even in your back. The primary symptoms of this condition are joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Your joints may also feel warm to the touch because of the inflammation. In particular, psoriatic arthritis also causes fingers and toes to swell up because it affects multiple joints in the same digits. This is called dactylitis. You might also experience tenderness and a reduced range of motion in the affected joints.
Psoriatic arthritis often causes pain at points where tendons and ligaments attach to your bones, and this type of pain commonly affects ankles and feet. It may be particularly strong in one or both soles of your feet as well. This condition can also affect your spine by creating inflammation in the joints between the vertebrae or those between your spine and pelvis. When the inflammation occurs between vertebrae, this can lead to a condition called spondylitis, and when it happens in your pelvis, it may cause another condition called sacroiliitis.
Your eyes can also be affected by psoriatic arthritis. Eye-related symptoms include red, irritated eyes and vision problems. The tissues around the eyes may also become red and painful. A general feeling of fatigue often accompanies psoriatic arthritis. Along with exhaustion, you may have trouble moving around freely due to stiffness and pain.
Both psoriasis and arthritis are chronic, meaning they’re long-lasting. They may flare up and present symptoms, but you may also go through periods in which you’re free of symptoms.
Managing Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms
Psoriatic arthritis doesn’t have a cure, but you can successfully manage your symptoms with treatments that help limit inflammation and swelling and work to reduce pain. Several different medications exist to help limit symptoms. These include over-the-counter and prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can lessen the swelling that causes pain. Other medications your doctor may prescribe include immunosuppressants, which are drugs that slightly weaken your immune system in order to keep it from attacking your body’s normal cells, which is thought to be one cause of psoriasis and some types of arthritis.
Aside from NSAIDs, immunosuppressants and several other medications, certain procedures may help you manage symptoms. If your arthritis has caused severe damage to one of the larger joints in your body, such as your shoulder or knee, you may be able to have the joint replaced entirely with a prosthetic joint. This is a major surgery, so your physician may want to try other more conservative treatments first, such as cortisone injections. During one of these procedures, you’re given shots of steroid medications directly in your affected joints to reduce swelling and inflammation.