Psoriatic Arthritis: When a Skin Problem Affects the Joints

 Psoriatic Arthritis: When a Skin Problem Affects the Joints

Psoriasis is a common skin condition that affects a great deal of people. For some people, however, psoriasis can also impact their joints causing a condition called psoriatic arthritis.

Defining Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a well-known and widespread skin disease that can make skin itchy, scaly, red, and inflamed. Most people who suffer from psoriasis have what’s called plaque psoriasis because affected skin forms plaques of skin in scaly patches. These plaques look silvery-white and flake off when scratched. If left untreated, plaques can become extremely itchy and even sting, burn, or generally feel painful. Psoriasis most often appears on the skin of the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back, but it can also appear on any area of your skin.

Psoriasis is a life-long disease that has no known cause. Doctors know that plaques are formed when the body over-produces skin cells. Skin cells are supposed to grow and die off in the course of weeks, but psoriasis reduces this cycle to a matter of days. There are certain situations or conditions that can cause psoriasis to flare up, meaning that more skin grows even faster for a short time. Some possible triggers for psoriasis flare ups include stress, infections or allergic reactions. Understanding psoriasis and seeking advice from a certified dermatologist can help you reduce the severity of your psoriasis and avoid any complications it can cause.

Psoriatic Arthritis: When Symptoms Are More Than Skin Deep

If you have psoriasis, you can develop psoriatic arthritis, a condition which causes your joints to swell. If untreated, psoriatic arthritis can become debilitating and spread to various joints and tendons throughout your body.

Like psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that for some unknown reason, the body’s immune system attacks itself. In the case of psoriatic arthritis, the joints and tendons are the focus of the immune system’s attack. Psoriatic arthritis usually begins 5 to 12 years after you first developed psoriasis. Not everyone who has psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis, but paying attention to the warning signs could prevent the condition from worsening.

What to Look For

You are more likely to develop psoriatic arthritis if a family member has the condition. Any type of psoriasis, including plaque, guttate, or pustular psoriasis, can lead to psoriatic arthritis. In very rare cases, arthritis symptoms can appear before plaques or other skin problems. If you have joint pain or weakness, or stiff and aching joints in the morning, speak to your dermatologist. These are the earliest warning signs of psoriatic arthritis.

Next, you may notice a swollen finger or toe. The joints in your affected digit will feel tender and sore. Any joint can be affected by psoriatic arthritis at any time, but fingers and toes are usually the first to experience swelling. Another common warning sign can be seen in the finger and toenails. Nails affected by psoriasis may experience pitting, which appear as small indentations in the nail. Sometimes the nail can even begin to lift off the skin below it. If psoriasis is in your nails, it very well may spread deeper into the body and become psoriatic arthritis.

Treating Psoriatic Arthritis

If you have psoriasis, treating your skin will not prevent psoriatic arthritis from forming or worsening. If you suspect you have psoriatic arthritis, your dermatologist will be able to confirm your suspicions after some investigation. Once testing is performed and other conditions are ruled out, a dermatologist can treat psoriatic arthritis in many ways.

Psoriatic arthritis can spread to any of your joints and can cause permanent, devastating damage in time. Thankfully, medications like methotrexate and injectable biologics can halt the spread of psoriatic arthritis and treat the affected joints. Methotrexate is approved to treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, and it can be very effective at reducing swelling in your joints. Biologics are a type of medicine that help prevent arthritis from spreading and causing joint damage. They are injected directly into arthritic joints and can be used in tandem with methotrexate or other treatments. Physical therapy can be administered to keep joint damage to a minimum. Prescription NSAIDS can also be provided to treat inflammation and reduce joint swelling pain. There are other methods your dermatologist can explore with you, but rest assured that psoriatic arthritis does not have to stop your daily activities.

If you have psoriasis and experience joint pain or swelling, you may be suffering from psoriatic arthritis. Contact a New England dermatologist sooner rather than later to prevent permanent joint damage and pain.

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