Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that affects some people who have psoriasis — a condition that features red patches of skin topped with silvery scales. Most people develop psoriasis first and are later diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, but the joint problems can sometimes begin before skin lesions appear.
Joint pain, stiffness and swelling are the main symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. They can affect any part of your body, including your fingertips and spine, and can range from relatively mild to severe. In both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, disease flares may alternate with periods of remission.
No cure for psoriatic arthritis exists, so the focus is on controlling symptoms and preventing damage to your joints. Without treatment, psoriatic arthritis may be disabling.
Both psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis are chronic diseases that get worse over time, but you may have periods when your symptoms improve or go into remission alternating with times when symptoms become worse.
Psoriatic arthritis can affect joints on just one side or on both sides of your body. The signs and symptoms of psoriatic arthritis often resemble those of rheumatoid arthritis. Both diseases cause joints to become painful, swollen and warm to the touch.
However, psoriatic arthritis is more likely to also cause:
If you have psoriasis, be sure to tell your doctor if you develop joint pain. Psoriatic arthritis can come on suddenly or develop slowly, but in either case it can severely damage your joints if left untreated.
Psoriatic arthritis occurs when your body's immune system begins to attack healthy cells and tissue. The abnormal immune response causes inflammation in your joints as well as overproduction of skin cells.
It's not entirely clear why the immune system turns on healthy tissue, but it seems likely that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Many people with psoriatic arthritis have a family history of either psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. Researchers have discovered certain genetic markers that appear to be associated with psoriatic arthritis.
Physical trauma or something in the environment — such as a viral or bacterial infection — may trigger psoriatic arthritis in people with an inherited tendency.
During the exam, your doctor may:
No single test can confirm a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. But some types of tests can rule out other causes of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
A small percentage of people with psoriatic arthritis develop arthritis mutilans — a severe, painful and disabling form of the disease. Over time, arthritis mutilans destroys the small bones in your hands, especially the fingers, leading to permanent deformity and disability.
Psoriatic arthritis can be particularly discouraging because the emotional pain that psoriasis can cause is compounded by joint pain and, in some cases, disability.
The support of friends and family can make a tremendous difference when you're facing the physical and psychological challenges of psoriatic arthritis. Just having someone to talk to can give you strength. For some people, support groups can offer the same benefits — this may be especially important if you're worried about burdening your loved ones.
A counselor or therapist can help you devise coping strategies to reduce your stress levels. The chemicals your body releases when you're under stress can aggravate both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
Several factors can increase your risk of psoriatic arthritis, including: