If you've been diagnosed with psoriasis, it's important to be on the lookout for painful or swollen joints in your body that could indicate the development of psoriatic arthritis.
About 30% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis symptoms, usually when they are between 30 and 50 years of age. Psoriatic skin lesions usually occur before the onset of arthritis. Early detection and receiving prompt psoriatic arthritis treatment are essential. Untreated psoriatic arthritis can result in permanent, crippling joint damage.
Since most people with psoriatic arthritis also have psoriatic skin lesions, it's important to balance treatment for your skin and joints. The good news is there are a variety of psoriatic arthritis treatments, including lifestyle habits and medications. Many are effective against psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, meaning the same therapies can benefit your joints and your skin.
"At the moment, the key thing is awareness among patients with psoriasis and dermatologists who treat psoriasis to help prevent the progressive damage that can occur with psoriatic arthritis," says Seattle-based rheumatologist Philip Mease, MD.
Researchers don't know what causes some people with psoriasis to develop psoriatic arthritis. Evidence suggests that a combination of genetics and the environment can trigger an autoimmune response in which the body attacks its own tissues. That autoimmune response causes psoriatic arthritis symptoms, such as inflammation in the joints.
If you have psoriasis, you could be at risk of developing a variety of different forms of psoriatic arthritis, each of which can vary in severity among individuals and within a given person over a period of time. Psoriatic arthritis can be symmetric, meaning it occurs in the same joints on both sides of the body. But it is more often asymmetric, meaning it may affect the fingers of your left hand and toes of your right foot, for example.
For many people, the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include swelling of the fingers and toes. They may take on a characteristic sausage shape, which is called dactylitis. If psoriatic arthritis affects the joints of your toes and fingers, it is most likely to strike the ones closest to the nail. Psoriatic arthritis can cause your nails to develop pits or peel away from the nail bed. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) -- another autoimmune disease -- is more likely to affect the toe and finger joints closest to the hand or foot.
At times, psoriatic arthritis symptoms can cause your joints to be painful and stiff even when there is no swelling. In some instances, psoriatic arthritis leads to arthritis of the spine, known as spondylitis. In rare cases, it can lead to a disfiguring condition in the hands and feet called arthritis mutilans.
Regardless of which joints are affected by psoriatic arthritis, you may find you have morning stiffness and fatigue.