Your body is intricate and complex, with an incredible web of different corresponding reactions that all work together. It creates links and connections you would never expect. Did you know that there could be a connection between your skin and arthritis?
It’s a condition called psoriatic arthritis, and it could be affecting you or someone you know. We’ll bring you up to speed on everything you need to know with this guide to psoriatic arthritis.
Table of Contents
1. What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?
2. Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis
3. What Causes Psoriatic Arthritis?
4. Potential Complications of Psoriatic Arthritis
5. Treatments for Psoriatic Arthritis
6. Ways to Lower Your Risk for Psoriatic Arthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis Complications
7. Getting on Top of Psoriatic Arthritis
What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?
You’re probably familiar with arthritis already: a chronic condition that causes swelling and inflammation in the joints. Psoriatic arthritis is a unique form of arthritis linked to the skin condition psoriasis.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. Your immune system attacks certain healthy cells in your body’s own tissue. This leads to excessive skin cell production, which creates rashes on your skin. In psoriatic arthritis, your immune system also attacks tissue in your joints, leading to inflammation, swelling, and stiffness in your joints.
Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis
In most cases, psoriasis symptoms appear years before psoriatic arthritis does, so people with psoriasis already know they have a risk for psoriatic arthritis. In fact, about 30% of people with psoriasis eventually develop psoriatic arthritis. There are some cases, though, when psoriatic arthritis symptoms appear before psoriasis symptoms.
Regardless of the order in which it happens, the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis typically include:
- Pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints on one or both sides of the body
- Joints that are warm to the touch
- Swelling in your fingers and toes
- Pain in your foot, including along your heel and bottom of your foot and in your Achilles tendon at the back of your heel
- Lower back pain caused by inflammation in the joints between your vertebrae
- Arthritis symptoms that develop at a younger age than is typical for arthritis—most often between ages 20 and 50
What Causes Psoriatic Arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis appears to be caused by a combination of heredity and environmental factors. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis tend to run in families, and researchers have identified a few specific genetic markers that predispose people to these conditions.
Still, not everyone with a genetic tendency for psoriatic arthritis develops the condition. It appears to be triggered by factors in your life and environment, most likely an illness or infection like the flu or other viral infections.
Unfortunately, this means there isn’t much you can do to prevent psoriatic arthritis. You can’t control your genetics. You can take precautions to avoid getting contagious illnesses, but you could still get psoriatic arthritis.
Potential Complications of Psoriatic Arthritis
Why is psoriatic arthritis a problem? It impacts people on a daily basis because of the discomfort and stiffness it causes, but there are also some complications that can develop over time.
Progressive Joint Damage
Psoriatic arthritis doesn’t only make your joints painful; it causes long-term damage to them. Your immune reaction damages the tissue in your joints and over time, which can progressively lead to less and less mobility in those joints. Some people ultimately need a total joint replacement or have to live with an immobile joint.
In rare cases, people with psoriatic arthritis can develop a severe form of the condition called arthritis mutilans. This type of arthritis causes severe pain and gradually degrades the bones in the hands and fingers.
Higher Risks for Other Diseases
This isn’t a true “complication” of psoriatic arthritis because it’s not something that appears when the condition gets worse, but it’s worth knowing regardless. People with psoriatic arthritis have a higher risk of certain other diseases, including high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. If you develop psoriatic arthritis, it’s important to reduce as many other risk factors for these diseases as you can control.
Treatments for Psoriatic Arthritis
The complications of psoriatic arthritis may seem scary, but, fortunately, there are treatments to keep the risks to a minimum. There’s no true cure for psoriatic arthritis, so if you have the condition, you will always have it. There are several reliable treatments to reduce your symptoms, though, and to keep joint damage at bay.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
As simple as it seems, certain over-the-counter pain relievers are designed to reduce inflammation, which can improve the inflammation in your joints. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), among others. Keep in mind that these medications do carry some risks from long-term use, so be sure to talk to your doctor for recommendations rather than self-treating with NSAIDs.
The most direct way to treat psoriatic arthritis is with a type of medication called DMARDs. The name stands for “disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs.” These medications directly impact your immune system and suppress the immune reaction that causes psoriatic arthritis symptoms. This not only reduces your symptoms on a day-to-day basis but slows the progressive damage that psoriatic arthritis creates.
Note that there are multiple types of DMARDs and several medications within those types. Your doctor will be able to prescribe the best fit for your needs, although it’s sometimes a matter of trial and error to find out which medications work best for you.
Biologics for psoriatic arthritis are technically a class of DMARDs because of the way they affect your immune system. These biologics modify your immune response by targeting specific pathways and processes in your immune system. The ideal result, as with other DMARDs, is to minimize your symptoms and the long-term damage to your joints.
Apremilast is a newer medication that’s an option for people who haven’t responded to DMARDs or who can’t use DMARDs. This medication decreases the activity of a particular enzyme that affects the inflammation in your cells.
In some cases, your doctor may use steroid injections for short-term relief. They do this by injecting steroids directly into your joint to quickly reduce the inflammation.
Ways to Lower Your Risk for Psoriatic Arthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis Complications
As mentioned, there’s no reliable way to lower your risk for developing psoriatic arthritis—it’s largely a matter of your genetics. However, if you know that psoriatic arthritis runs in your family or if you already have psoriatic arthritis, there are steps you can take to minimize the effect of psoriatic arthritis.
In addition to working with your doctor and keeping up with any medications and treatments they prescribe, follow these lifestyle habits:
- Exercise regularly to maintain flexibility and mobility
- Avoid twisting motions that put excess pressure on your affected joints
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Avoid smoking
Getting on Top of Psoriatic Arthritis
You may not be able to prevent psoriatic arthritis, but the earlier you can start treating it effectively, the better you can minimize its long-term effects. If you have psoriatic arthritis and want to explore your treatment options, or if you believe you may have psoriatic arthritis, SRx is here to guide you through everything you need. Connect with your nearest SRx to discuss your symptoms or concerns, and we’ll create a comprehensive, integrated care plan that is personalized to you.