Have you ever heard of psoriasis? Most likely yes. Either you or someone you know suffers from red, patchy, itchy skin, with silvery scales. A fairly common autoimmune disorder, psoriasis affects approximately 7 million individuals in the United States alone. What you may be less familiar with is arthritis that affects psoriasis sufferers. Termed psoriatic arthritis, this autoimmune disorder inflicts 30% of individuals who have psoriasis.
As psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, what this means is the body is turning on itself – essentially attacking its own joints. While psoriatic arthritis can develop at any time, the most likely age of onset is between 30 and 50 – most cases presenting first signs between the fourth and fifth decade. Chronic and progressive, psoriatic arthritis affects men and women equally. There is a higher percentage of North Americans and Europeans who develop the disease over Asians. Most people (approximately 85%) are living with psoriasis prior to developing psoriatic arthritis; however, there is a small portion of individuals that develop psoriatic arthritis without suffering from psoriasis.
Medical scientists still have not pinpointed an exact cause of psoriatic arthritis; however, most doctors have come to agreement that it is a mix of genetics and the environment that plays a role in who develops this condition. The biggest predictor of whether someone develops psoriatic arthritis is if they are already suffering from psoriasis. The second predictor of psoriatic arthritis is having a family member who has lived with the disease or who lives with psoriasis. In most cases of individuals who develop psoriatic arthritis, they have a parent or sibling who also had the disease, or had psoriasis. Environmental factors, such as stress and contraction of certain bacterial or viral infections (e.g., strep throat) are also believed to play a role in the onset of psoriatic arthritis.
The three most common types of arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis, have many overlapping symptoms, making diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis difficult. In many cases, the presence of psoriasis is the determining and distinguishing factor of making a psoriatic arthritis diagnosis.
Once a psoriatic arthritis diagnosis has been made, your doctor will likely classify you into one of five types of psoriatic arthritis. We discuss these types below.
Symmetric psoriatic arthritis
In this form of psoriatic arthritis, joints on both sides of the body are affected. The most common type of psoriatic arthritis, symmetric psoriatic arthritis affects about 50% of the psoriatic arthritis population. Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis are most similar to rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Asymmetric psoriatic arthritis
Affecting approximately 35% of the population with psoriatic arthritis, asymmetric psoriatic arthritis appears in different joints on different sides of the body. Instead of both knees being inflamed, your knee might be affected by psoriatic arthritis on the right side of your body and your left elbow might be inflicted with pain and inflammation at the same time.
Distal psoriatic arthritis
Distal psoriatic arthritis affects the fingers and toes. This type of psoriatic arthritis is characteristic of inflamed joints and nail changes – including nail pitting, white spots in the nails, and nails lifting from the nail bed.
Spondylitis is a type of psoriatic arthritis that primarily affects the back and the spine. Painful swelling and inflammation in these areas are classic symptoms of spondylitis.
Arthritis mutilans only affects a very small percentage of psoriatic arthritis sufferers (approximately 5% of the population) and it is the most severe type. Arthritis mutilans causes permanent deformities in the fingers and toes, destroying the joints so severely that full recovery is usually not attainable.
If you suspect you or a loved one is affected by psoriatic arthritis, what are the signs and symptoms you should be looking for? Below is a list of some of the most common symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. You might have only a couple of the symptoms on this list or you might have several.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and suspect you might be suffering from psoriatic arthritis, contact your doctor. Your doctor will conduct a general medical exam, ask you a number of questions about your symptoms and family history, and will also conduct some blood work.
Because psoriatic arthritis has many overlapping symptoms with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout, your doctor may run some tests to rule out these other types of arthritic conditions. For example, you might undergo Rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-CCP antibody tests to rule out related rheumatoid arthritis, x-rays to examine joint damage and inflammation, and bone density scans to measure your bone health. While the exact cause of psoriatic arthritis is unknown, many individuals with psoriatic arthritis (approximately 40-50%) have the HLA-B27 genotype. A simple blood test can confirm this genotype in the body.
If you have been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, what are your treatment options? Thankfully, treatment options for arthritis have advanced in recent years and many individuals living with psoriatic arthritis keep symptoms and pain under control by following a regiment of treatments.
Treatments for psoriatic arthritis can include medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes.
The most common medications for psoriatic arthritis treat the most prominent symptom of the disease: inflammation. The following are several common medications used in the treatment of psoriatic arthritis.
Some individuals with psoriatic arthritis take steroid injections to quickly reduce inflammation into affected joints. Joint replacement surgery may be necessary in some individuals with the disease to replace severely damaged joints with artificial prostheses.
Lifestyle changes can have profound affects on the treatment and control of psoriatic arthritis symptoms. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can make a world of difference in the pain and inflammation associated with this disease. Some common lifestyle changes include:
Can psoriatic arthritis be prevented? Unfortunately, no. However, with proper treatment, the prognosis for people living with psoriatic arthritis is great. As soon as you start to exhibit symptoms, it’s best to get checked out by a doctor, as the sooner you start treatment, the better the prognosis becomes. You don’t want to wait until so much damage is done to the joints they aren’t treatable or are only treatable by more extreme means (e.g., surgery).
When diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, there are dietary changes that may potentially introduce a flare-up of the condition. As mentioned above, maintaining a healthy weight and cutting down on “empty” calories such as sodas, sugars, candy, and other junk food, can keep extra pressure off of the joints. Psoriatic arthritis patients have also reported when they cut out dairy products (Vitamin D in general), symptoms are lessened.
When you have a psoriatic arthritis flare-up, pay attention to changes in your diet or lifestyle that could have contributed to the flare-up. Do you consume a lot of dairy or were you particularly stressed out about work or life in general? If you spot the triggers of psoriatic arthritis flare-ups, you can learn to minimize the introduction of those triggers in your everyday life.
Once you have a good handle on your treatment options and daily lifestyle changes, living with psoriatic arthritis can be manageable and relatively pain-free. Know the symptoms, pay attention to the triggers, and be proactive with your health.