Frequently Asked Questions About Psoriatic Arthritis


Gina Garippo

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Psoriatic arthritis is a disorder that can develop in people with psoriasis. It occurs when the immune system goes into overdrive to attack the skin problem. The overactive immune system results in inflammation, which causes pain, swelling, and damage to the joints. Get to know answers to the most common questions people have about psoriatic arthritis.

Which parts of the body are affected by psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis can occur in any part of the body. However, the knees, fingers, toes, and spine are commonly affected. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause pain in areas where ligaments and tendons meet bone, such as at the heel or around the elbows. The arthritis can move to different locations in the body over time.  

Who is most likely to develop the disease?

Anyone with psoriasis can get psoriatic arthritis. In fact, up to 30 percent of men and women with psoriasis are estimated to have the condition. Psoriatic arthritis typically first appears between ages 30 and 50 but can start at any time. In some cases, the arthritis develops before the skin disorder appears. Those who have family members with psoriatic arthritis are also more likely to develop the condition.  

What are the symptoms of the disease?

Early symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include stiffness or pain in one or more joints. Swelling in the fingers or toes, which may cause a sausage-like appearance, is also common. People with psoriatic arthritis may also experience fingernail or toenail changes—such as the development of pits or ridges in the nails or separation of the nail from the nail bed.

How is psoriatic arthritis diagnosed?

Psoriatic arthritis occurs differently in different people. It can develop slowly and have mild symptoms or come on quickly and be severe. Doctors typically look for signs of psoriatic arthritis such as swollen or painful joints and nail changes. They may also use imaging such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for joint damage.

What are the complications of psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited range of motion in the joints. If left untreated, psoriatic arthritis can cause permanent damage and disfiguration to the joints.

Why is it important to seek treatment?

In addition to controlling symptoms, certain medications can actually slow or prevent the disease from damaging the joints. This can greatly improve quality of life. Postponing treatment can result in preventable joint pain and disability.

What type of doctor should I see for treatment?

Whenever possible, work with a rheumatologist, who can help develop a treatment plan that’s effective for your condition and needs. A rheumatologist is a doctor who has special training and experience in arthritis and other joint diseases.

Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to improve the condition?

Regular exercise is important for people with psoriatic arthritis. It’s been shown to help maintain joint strength and function and improve range of motion. Burning calories will further lighten the burden on those sore joints. Not smoking can also improve your condition and quality of life.

What medications are used to treat psoriatic arthritis?

There are many options. Your doctor will work with you to find the right medication and dosage that’s tailored to your specific condition and needs. The main types of treatment options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as over-the-counter and prescription ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as newer COX-2 inhibitor drugs, are shown to reduce psoriatic arthritis pain and inflammation.

  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex and Trexall) and cyclosporine (Neoral and Sandimmune), reduce long-term joint damage by lowering inflammation levels in the body.

  • Biologic response modifier drugs (or biologics), a newer form of DMARDs, have been effective in reducing arthritis symptoms and preventing joint damage with potentially fewer side effects than traditional DMARDs.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 13, 2017

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