Should I be concerned about psoriatic arthritis?

December 11, 2023

Primary Care Rheumatology
Getting knee checked on

If you or someone in your family has psoriasis, you may worry about developing psoriatic arthritis. This autoimmune condition typically develops in people with psoriasis — a skin disorder that causes itchiness and discomfort — or a family history of psoriasis. Yet psoriatic arthritis is still rare. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, only about 30% of people with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis.

Still, understanding the condition and learning the signs and symptoms will help you recognize psoriatic arthritis early if it does occur. And an early diagnosis can help prevent or limit extensive joint damage later.

“Getting a diagnosis early is important,” says Dr. Samantha Smith, an internal medicine physician at Riverside Primary Care Hidenwood.“We have many effective treatments today for psoriatic arthritis that can help reduce pain, protect the joints and preserve mobility.”

Understanding psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory disease affecting the joints. Although it can develop at any age, psoriatic arthritis typically develops between ages 30 and 50. Many people experience it about 10 years after developing psoriasis. However, some people may have psoriatic arthritis before or without ever developing psoriasis.

Psoriatic arthritis generally affects the large joints (like the knees or ankles), particularly those in the lower half of the body. You may experience mild symptoms that develop slowly, or severe symptoms may start quickly. If you have a family history of psoriasis, a streptococcal infection (strep throat) or a joint injury may trigger psoriatic arthritis.

Common signs of psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Eye inflammation
  • Foot and lower back pain
  • Painful, stiff and swollen joints
  • Nail pitting

Diagnosing and treating psoriatic arthritis

If you have psoriasis, tell your doctor if you develop joint pain. A rheumatologist (inflammation specialist) will likely want to check you for swollen and painful joints and any changes to your skin or nails. The rheumatologist may order a test such as an X-ray, MRI, ultrasound or CT scan to look at your joints in more detail. If you are diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, your doctor will develop a care plan tailored to lessen your specific symptoms. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for psoriatic arthritis but treatment can decrease pain and prevent disabling joint damage.

“Treating psoriatic arthritis typically depends on the extent of your pain, stiffness and swelling,” says Dr. Smith. “It also may depend on how often you have flare-ups.”

For example, people with mild symptoms may only need to take an over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen when they experience joint pain. On the other hand, people with more severe symptoms may need a prescription drug to reduce joint inflammation.

Your doctor also may recommend steroid injections and physical therapy based on your specific condition.

Managing psoriatic arthritis

Lifestyle changes, like exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking, can help decrease the severity of your symptoms. People with psoriatic arthritis tend to have a higher risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes – so maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important adds Dr. Smith.

“Making healthy changes to your daily routine is a key part of treatment,” Dr. Smith says.

Need help finding a doctor? Schedule an appointment with one of our doctors online.

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