Psoriatic (“so-ree-ah-tic”) arthritis is an inflammatory condition that can occur when someone has psoriasis (“so-rye-ah-sis”), which is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin. Psoriatic arthritis symptoms primarily include stiff and swollen joints, which can be painful and impact daily life if left untreated.
Psoriatic arthritis affects about 10 to 20% of people with psoriasis. It most commonly affects adults between the ages of 30 and 50 but can develop in children and adults of any age.
If you have psoriasis, you may be at risk for developing psoriatic arthritis. Because it’s a chronic condition that gets worse over time if left unchecked, it’s important to know the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis so that you can get a diagnosis and start taking steps to manage and reduce pain.
Florida Medical Clinic rheumatologist Dr. Julio Gonzalez-Paoli shares some knowledge of the basics of psoriatic arthritis, including tips for management.
Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms
The most common psoriatic arthritis symptom is swollen joints that are warm to the touch. However, this symptom may also resemble other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Other common psoriatic arthritis symptoms include:
- Swollen, painful joints, especially in the fingers or toes
- Stiff joints, especially in the morning
- Foot pain, especially in the sole of the foot or in the Achilles tendon
- Lower back and/or neck pain
- Nail pitting, flaking, or separation
- Fatigue that doesn’t seem to have a cause
- New or worsening psoriasis symptoms
If you have psoriasis, you may notice joint pain in conjunction with skin flare-ups. However, a small number of people may experience joint problems even if they’ve never had skin problems resulting from psoriasis.
How is it diagnosed?
Dr. Gonzalez-Paoli says your rheumatologist or your family doctor will examine you and perform a few different tests to confirm a diagnosis. There is no one single test that can diagnose psoriatic arthritis, but tests may rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
Your doctor will start by asking you about your family history of psoriasis. Then, they’ll examine your skin and joints for signs of redness, swelling, and rashes. They may also check your nails for pitting.
Your doctor may also conduct blood or joint fluids tests, and/or order x-rays to better examine your joints.
What Causes Psoriatic Arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking healthy tissues and joints, causing painful inflammation.
Why the immune system does this isn’t yet known, but we do know that this condition runs in families and has a genetic component. Scientists also believe there may be environmental factors that can trigger it, like a virus or bacteria.
If you have psoriasis, you may trigger an arthritic flare up if you accidentally strain a joint, stub your toe, or hit your elbow on a hard surface. Physical trauma to a joint or extremity can trigger the inflammatory immune response, causing pain and swelling.
If you have a family history of psoriasis, you may be wondering about preventing this condition. While there’s no way to guarantee you won’t get psoriatic arthritis, there are a few daily habits you can adopt to reduce your risk, such as:
- Do exercises that improve your flexibility and strengthen your joints and bones, like lifting weights, swimming, or yoga
- Cut back on your salt, sugar, and alcohol intake
- Stop smoking
- Find ways to reduce stress, including meditation, yoga, and/or mental health counseling
- Take lots of breaks during physical activities to avoid injury; avoid doing repetitive tasks for long periods
If you want to learn more about prevention, talk to a rheumatologist for advice.
Treatment Options for Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms
There is no cure for psoriatic arthritis, but the symptoms can be effectively managed through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. It’s important to seek out treatment as soon as possible to reduce pain, improve daily moods, and slow joint damage from progressing.
There are a variety of different drugs available to help patients with their psoriatic arthritis symptoms, including NSAIDs, immunosuppressants, biologic medicines, and others. Your rheumatologist will help you find what works best for you, but it may take some time to find the right medication.
Psoriatic arthritis can also be treated with the right lifestyle habits. Some of these include:
- Regular exercise to help strengthen your joints and lessen pain*
- Stopping smoking to reduce symptoms
- Eating a healthy, vegetable-filled diet to help reduce inflammation while strengthening your bones and joints
- Using heating pads or ice packs to soothe joint pain
*Note: Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise plan. Some rigorous exercise plans can worsen the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis.
Living with Psoriatic Arthritis
Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are chronic conditions, meaning they can’t be completely cured. These conditions may only affect a few joints—or they can cause a lot of pain and damage to joints all over the body, especially in the hands and feet. Early treatment can greatly reduce pain and discomfort over time, even if it can’t completely stop damage from occurring.
Those living with psoriatic arthritis may have pain every day or just have occasional flare-ups, which can be triggered by overexertion, repetitive movements, or accidentally hitting or striking a joint. If you’re struggling to manage daily pain and symptoms, you should:
- Talk to a rheumatologist about other treatment options, such as joint injections or different medications
- Keep a diary or log of your flare-ups, when they occur, and what triggers them
- Consider talking to an occupational therapist about assistive tools you can use in everyday life, such as canes, grab bars, or reacher tools
- Take all medications exactly as prescribed, even on days you feel better
- Pace yourself and avoid activities that you know cause pain or flare-ups
Talk to a Rheumatologist in Tampa, FL
Psoriatic arthritis can be painful if left unchecked, but it’s possible to reduce symptoms, slow damage, and live life normally with the right treatment.
To learn more and get tested for psoriatic arthritis, schedule an appointment with Dr. Julio Gonzalez-Paoli at our new location in Seminole Heights, FL. You can also request a telemedicine appointment for a virtual visit.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or therapies.