Psoriasis, a condition that causes red, scaly patches of skin, can be debilitating. Some people experience psychological distress because of the disease. Others may miss work or avoid social situations when they’re having a flare. According to the Arthritis Foundation, psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease in the U.S.
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Approximately 36 percent of Americans with psoriasis also suffer from psoriatic arthritis. This condition is often misdiagnosed. Early detection is key because it allows patients to seek treatment that can prevent future joint damage.
What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic disease characterized by joint pain, reduced mobility and inflammation. It occurs when the body attacks its own joints. Although there is no cure for the disease, medical treatment may be effective for alleviating symptoms and minimizing damage to the joints and tissues.
Most people develop skin symptoms before they present with achy joints. However, some people with psoriatic arthritis get skin plaque later. Some never have the characteristic patches of swollen, flaky skin. Because the condition can mimic symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, it can be misdiagnosed.
The disease may also stay dormant in the body until the immune system is triggered. Stress, sickness and infection can bring on symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Swelling in the joints, fingers and toes
- Lower back aches
- Pain in the soles of the feet and heels
- Joints that are warm to the touch
Symptoms may come and go. Everyone experiences different periods of remission and flares. Some individuals notice swelling and deformities in their feet and hands before they’re hit with any pain.
Common Treatment Options
Most people seek treatment when the condition becomes painful. They may be able to stop treating the disease when it is in remission. Active symptoms that go untreated can cause permanent damage to the joints.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are often the first course of treatment for psoriatic arthritis. They can reduce pain, but some people need stronger relief. NSAIDs also reduce inflammation, which can protect your joints in the long run. They have fewer side effects than some other types of medication.
Steroids can be given for acute flares and intense inflammation. These drugs reduce swelling. However, they can also suppress the immune system. When patients stop using steroids, they often experience a flare.
Immunosuppressants moderate an out-of-control immune system. The idea is that if your immune system is on overdrive, slowing it down can prevent it from going in attack mode. In the case of psoriatic arthritis, the immune system attacks the body’s own cells instead of foreign invaders. When you take these medications, you are at a greater risk of contracting an illness.
Tumor-necrosis factor alpha inhibitors diminish the effects of an inflammation-causing substance in the body. They help your joints regain mobility and comfort. However, they can have serious side effects, such as digestive distress, hair loss, and susceptibility to infection.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors have also found them to be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation and protecting the joints in patients with psoriatic arthritis.
Joint surgery is a more invasive option if damage has become severe. Joints can be replaced by artificial materials to help people regain their range of motion and quality of life. A synovectomy removes a portion of the joint lining, reducing pain and damage.
Symptoms of the disease can be unpredictable and treating them can prove frustrating. You can take measures to prevent flares by changing your lifestyle. However, these remedies can only help with symptoms of the disease and do not serve as treatment.
Maintaining a healthy weight can prevent your joints from undergoing further damage and discomfort. Every pound of extra weight applies four pounds of pressure on the knees. Harvard Health Publishing explains that a 200-pound person puts 300 pounds of pressure on the knee joints with every step. Losing a few pounds can make a huge difference in your symptoms.
Fatty tissue also releases proteins that contribute to swelling. Reducing your body fat can diminish inflammation in the body.
According to WebMD, people with psoriasis tend to feel better when they eat healthier. Foods that cause inflammation can exacerbate symptoms. These include:
- Fatty red meat
- Vegetables in the nightshade family
- Refined sugars
- Chemically processed foods
Avoiding those foods and increasing your consumption of foods with anti-inflammatory properties can improve your symptoms. Some foods that can lower irritation and swelling are:
- Sweet potatoes
Turmeric is a spice that is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. You can use it in your cooking or buy it as a supplement. Make sure to check with your doctor to make sure that this natural supplement won’t interfere with other medications that you’re taking.
A sedentary lifestyle can make joint stiffness feel worse. Even though it may hurt to move around, you should attempt to exercise to keep your muscles strong and joints mobile. Low-impact activities, such as swimming and cycling, can reduce pressure in your knees as you work out.
Psoriatic arthritis usually affects people between the ages of 30 and 50. However, it can develop in childhood. People who have had symptoms since they were children are at a greater risk of suffering from joint damage than those who developed the disease as an adult.
The National Psoriasis Foundation explains that the newest oral medications may be more effective than traditional drugs. Because they selectively pinpoint molecules inside immune cells, they prevent those cells from becoming overactive.
In 2016, researchers discovered a protein that may play a major role in the development of the disease. They’re testing out new therapies that could block this protein in the skin. Another doctor created a topical remedy that might alter your DNA to prevent an immune response.
Treatment options for psoriatic arthritis are varied. If you suffer from the disease, you may benefit from creating a healing lifestyle. Exercise, eat well, get enough sleep and reduce stress. Work with your doctor to adjust your treatments and get adequate relief.