Psoriatic arthritis is a long-term condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints. Over time, it can cause be damaging to the joints and cause disability. It is associated with a skin condition called psoriasis, but not everyone that has psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body attacks its own healthy tissue.
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The exact cause of psoriatic arthritis is not known. It may be due to a combination of genetics and environmental triggers.
Factors that increase your chance of psoriatic arthritis includes having:
- Psoriasis for 5-12 years
- Psoriasis with symptoms such as lesions on the scalp and pitted or dented nails
- A specific genetic characteristic that has been linked to psoriatic arthritis
- A family member with psoriatic arthritis
Psoriatic arthritis usually develops in people who already have psoriasis. Symptoms that may indicate the development of psoriatic arthritis include:
- Joint pain and tenderness in one or more joints (usually feet and hands but can be any other joint, including wrists, knees, and elbows)
- Joint swelling
- Joint stiffness, especially in the morning
- Red or warm joints
- Swelling of fingers or toes
- Changes in fingernails and toenails (pitting in the nails, crumbling nails, or nails separating from the nail bed)
- Pain and inflammation of tendons where they join muscles
- Back pain
- Redness and pain of the eye
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history, especially information about your psoriasis. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will rule out similar conditions with the physical exam.
To look for signs of an inflammation and cause of joint problem your doctor may order:
- Blood tests to look for autoimmune disease
- Analysis of the fluid in the joints
- Tests to check how the immune system is functioning
Imaging tests may also be done to look for damage to the joint. Images may include:
In addition to treating your psoriasis, your doctor will also create a treatment plan that focuses on your arthritis symptoms. You will probably be referred to a rheumatologist.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to decrease pain and inflammation
- Steroid injections into painful joints
- Oral steroids are occasionally need for acute flare-ups
- Apremilast to reduce inflammation within the cell.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to treat more severe symptoms and slow the progression of the disease
- Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors to treat more severe symptoms
You may be referred to a physical or occupational therapist. These therapists can help you to improve your range of motion and your ability to do everyday activities.
Proper weight management is associated with improved symptoms. Talk to a dietitian who can help you lose excess weight and keep it off.
Working with a mental health therapist may also be helpful for your overall well-being. You can learn ways to better cope with your chronic condition.
If you have severe pain and disability, your doctor may advise:
- Surgery to improve function of hand and wrist joints
- Tendon surgery
There are no current guidelines to prevent psoriatic arthritis because the cause is not known.
National Psoriasis Foundation
The Arthritis Society
Canadian Rheumatology Association
Psoriatic arthritis. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/psoriatic-arthritis. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Psoriatic arthritis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113795/Psoriatic-arthritis. Updated April 11, 2016. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Psoriatic arthritis. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: https://www.psoriasis.org/psoriatic-arthritis. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/20/2014