About a million people in the United States suffer from psoriatic arthritis, a debilitating condition where someone suffers the combined issues of both psoriasis and arthritis.
What exactly is psoriatic arthritis?
Psoriasis is a skin condition where someone develops patches of scaly, itchy, dry skin. These patches form as the result of skin cells building up. Arthritis is a condition marked by inflammation of the joints, which typically causes pain and stiffness.
Psoriatic arthritis is a condition where someone with psoriasis also experiences the inflammation of arthritis.
Why does psoriatic arthritis happen?
Most commonly, people who suffer from psoriasis (chronic inflammation of the skin) develop arthritis at a later date. In some cases, though, arthritis symptoms may appear first.
At this point, experts are not 100% sure why this condition develops. However, a faulty immune system, risk factors like age, and environmental factors like exposure to cigarette smoke seem to increase the risk that someone will develop this condition.
What are the symptoms?
If left untreated, you may find your condition worsening to the point that it’s debilitating. Since there is no cure for this condition, catching it early so its progression can be halted is key to managing psoriatic arthritis.
So, just what are some of the signs that you may have this condition? The first is a tell-tale symptom that most often occurs in the fingers and toes…
Many patients with psoriatic arthritis experience swelling in the toes and fingers, otherwise known as dactylitis. Also called “sausage fingers and toes,” dactylitis is among the more noticeable symptoms of this condition.
Is the swelling restricted to the fingers and toes?
Sometimes the finger and toes aren’t the only areas affected. You may notice swelling in different areas of your body, such as in your hips, ankles, and even your elbows.
Why does psoriatic arthritis cause dactylitis?
Psoriatic arthritis can inflame joints, which naturally may lead to swelling. Not every part of your body may be inflamed at the same time, though.
How can you manage this symptom?
- If swelling is noticeable in your feet, consider getting shoes that provide you with ample room so that you’re not uncomfortable.
- You can also consider taking over-the-counter NSAIDs that may help reduce the inflammation.
- Managing your stress is another good way to combat inflammation as stress is well-known trigger that can lead to uncomfortable swelling.
When joints swell, it’s incredibly likely that the next symptom will emerge, too…
2. Stiff Joints
Unlike swelling, you won’t see that your joints are stiff. Rather, you’ll feel like it’s more difficult to move. One of the first signs of psoriatic arthritis, this stiffness can be mild or severe. In severe cases, it can lead to pain instead of just general discomfort.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause it?
Psoriatic arthritis is known to cause inflammation. Although that usually leads to swelling, it can also cause your joints to tighten up too much, leading to stiffness.
When does the pain often occur?
It is common for patients with psoriatic arthritis to feel a greater amount of stiffness in the morning. This fact is because your joints steadily become more inflamed through the night, especially because you aren’t moving that much.
How can you manage joint stiffness?
Getting out of bed can be difficult, so you can start managing your joint stiffness by changing your morning routine.
- You can get up earlier to give your body more time to warm up properly. Safe and comfortable stretches are helpful as well to loosen up the joints.
- You can also try to relax the muscles with a warm bath or shower.
- In terms of your diet, consider getting in more vitamin D in as well as ingest other anti-inflammatory foods like green leafy vegetables or the fattier types of fish such as salmon. By reducing the inflammation, you may help alleviate that stiff sensation in your joints.
Unlike this symptom, the following is one that is easy to spot visually…
3. Joint Redness and Warmth
As with joint swelling, your joints may warm up or even have a red appearance that isn’t associated with the skin condition from psoriasis itself. The warmth of your joints can easily be felt by simply touching the area.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause redness and warmth?
Inflammation is the bad guy here yet again. You see, when joints become inflamed, heat is produced at the same time. You might even visibly see the inflammation not just with swelling, but with red discoloration.
How can you manage these symptoms?
Managing joint redness and warmth comes with addressing your diet and medication.
- You can consume more whole grains and plant-based proteins for natural anti-inflammatory relief.
- Many over-the-counter medications can also bring you relief, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Of course, when swelling, warmth, and stiffness are present, the following is bound to occur as well…
4. Painful Joints
With all the swelling and stiffness your joints undergo, it can quickly accelerate into pain rather than just an achy annoyance.
How severe is the pain?
The pain severity varies by individual and specific flare-up. Joint pain can be severe enough to completely hinder your activities and make it even more difficult to get around. It can be mild though, simply causing a bout of soreness after basic activities.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause pain?
One of the biggest issues concerning psoriatic arthritis is inflammation. As we learned, this inflammation can cause joint warmth, redness, and stiffness. In some cases, these inflammation side effects are so severe that they cause pain.
How can you manage the pain?
Oftentimes, pain in your joints comes and go. You may have a complete remission period where you won’t feel anything or you may have a drastic flare-up where the pain is constant.
- A good way to deal with this pain is through medication. If the pain you feel is more intense and frequent, your doctor may recommend either over-the-counter pain medication or even prescribe you some.
- You can always try to manage the root cause: inflammation. This management can entail taking anti-inflammatory medication or opting for anti-inflammatory foods and drinks.
- Using hot and cold therapy tends to work well for inflammation, too. Moist heating pads especially seem to be useful in helping to relieve some pain.
When joints are swollen, stiff, and painful, it’s natural for you to experience the following…
5. Loss of Range of Motion
Your joints should have a normal range of motion that allows you to go about your day-to-day routine and generally walk without difficulty. However, those with psoriatic arthritis can experience a loss in this range of motion. This loss effectively means that the distance and direction your joints can move in severely decrease.
How severe is the motion loss?
Bending the knees or lifting the arms a certain way become trying tasks, if not impossible, for some people.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause motion-range loss?
This sign of psoriatic arthritis is more of an indirect symptom. In other words, it is more of a by-product of painful, stiff, and swollen joints than directly a result of the condition itself.
How can you manage this symptom?
The key to improving your range of motion again is in gaining back the flexibility within your joints.
- Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend range-of-motion exercises and stretches that you should perform on a consistent basis.
- The more active routines can be done by yourself at home, while active and passive exercises and stretches require someone to help you.
While some symptoms of psoriatic arthritis are merely temporary, the following can eventually develop as a permanent symptom of the condition…
6. Joint Deformity
Undergoing a good deal of joint pain, stiffness, and motion reduction can have a lasting physical effect on the body in the form of deformities.
What is a joint deformity?
Joint deformity occurs when your joints bend or crook out of place. For those suffering from psoriatic arthritis, this deformity often occurs in the fingers and toes.
Noticeable deformities are often a sign of worsening arthritis.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause this deformity?
Even though this symptom is seen largely in rheumatoid arthritis, those with psoriatic arthritis may experience it as well. Once again, this symptom stems from inflammation.
When deformity occurs, it signals that inflammation has worn down the cartilage in your bones. Combined with swelling, these joint deformities can become painful.
How can you manage this symptom?
Managing joint deformities isn’t something you can do alone because of the severity of the symptom. You’ll have to consult with a doctor and occupational therapist in this case. They may provide a splint to reduce, or at least slow down, any further damage while also giving you a system of exercises and stretches to perform.
Unfortunately, performing certain exercises might be tricky if the upcoming symptom presents itself…
7. Back Complications
“Back complications” is a blanket term to address pain and discomfort found in the neck, shoulders, and back. You may also experience stiffness, swelling, and a loss of range of motion in those areas rather than just your joints around your fingers and toes.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause back complications?
Once again, inflammation is to blame.
For example, some patients experience an overwhelming bout of inflammation in the lower back, which leads to a condition known as spondylitis, which targets your spine and vertebrae.
How can you manage back complications?
Handling back complications brought on by psoriatic arthritis is similar to dealing with other symptoms. You must treat the inflammation.
- There are plenty of medications to ease the stiffness and pain associated with the inflammation.
- Dietary changes may help you avoid triggers and flare-ups.
- When it comes to issues like spondylitis or stiffness in various areas of your back and neck, you can work with a physical therapist to come up with a safe routine to loosen up the stiffness and ease away the pain. This might also improve your flexibility, which can keep your range of motion intact.
- Maintaining good posture is vital as well so that your spine isn’t further strained by your slouching.
Of course, the back isn’t the only area that may be affected by this condition…
8. Foot Pain
Psoriatic arthritis doesn’t just affect the joints in the toes and fingers or cause inflammation in your back. Many patients additionally feel the effects of the condition throughout the entire foot.
Where does the discomfort occur and what does it feel like?
You may notice discomfort in your ankles, heels, and the balls of your feet. Some patients with foot pain might even have a limp because walking becomes painful or difficult.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause foot discomfort?
Inflammation from this condition can cause enthesitis, which is when the area where your tendons line up to your bones becomes inflamed. This condition usually develops around the Achilles tendon or even at the bottoms of your feet.
How can you manage this symptom?
- You can always opt to use NSAIDs or other prescribed medications to treat the inflammatory issues in your feet.
- There may also be medication specifically for your psoriatic arthritis your doctor can prescribe to help manage any swelling and stiffness.
- Consider addressing the type of shoes you’re wearing. Sometimes with arthritis, you have to be pickier about your footwear. Having shoes with a wider toe box or even open-toed shoes can relieve your feet if your toes are swollen.
- Cushioned inserts can help with pain as well.
- Stretches, heat therapy, and cold therapy can also be beneficial.
Of course, with everything going on in the body, the following symptom may occur, too…
With all the other issues you’re experiencing—from pain to swelling—it’s no surprise you feel worn down at the end of the day.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is a feeling of both physical and mental exhaustion. You may feel as though it’s impossible to go through your day, whether you’re working or not, without a nap.
Other than feeling sleepy, you may just feel lethargic and unable to function in your day-to-day tasks even if you’ve had rest. This lethargy, in turn, can lead to a lack of focus and motivation.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause fatigue?
Many autoimmune conditions cause fatigue, and psoriatic arthritis is no different. Specifically, the amount of stress your body is going through can wear you down over time. More so, inflammation itself is often a culprit of causing feelings of fatigue.
You may even have to check with your doctor to see if any medication you’re taking to treat your psoriatic arthritis has the unintended effect of sapping away your energy.
How can you manage it?
Due to fatigue not exactly being a lone symptom on its own, your focus should be on working on the root issue.
- If you’ve discovered certain medication is making your mind cloudy and keeping you exhausted, talk with your doctor about it. They may recommend changing the dose or switching it altogether.
- You can also address any stiffness you may have. There’s a chance that your stiff joints can make it hard to sleep, which leaves you feeling exhausted the rest of the day. So, try to manage better sleep habits as well as waking up to stretch out any tightened joints.
The next symptom of psoriatic arthritis? It’s a real nail-biter…
10. Nail Pitting
Nail pitting appears as tiny dents or depressions in the surface of the nails.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause nail pitting?
Yet again, the cause of this symptom leads us back to inflammation.
Psoriatic arthritis might cause inflammation in your nail matrix, which is where your nails begin growing. This inflammation results in little dents or depressions, known as nail pitting.
Unfortunately, this pitting makes the nails especially susceptible to infections, meaning that this symptom requires extra care and attention.
How can you manage nail pitting?
Nail pitting is unfortunately one of the more difficult psoriatic arthritis symptoms to manage. Why? It all has to do with location and timing. Specifically, since the pitting occurs while the nail grows, it’s difficult to get medication to the problem areas.
That being said, there are a few treatment options available for dealing with nail pitting.
- Some doctors opt to inject the likes of corticosteroids directly into your nail beds, but not everyone sees results from this method.
- If the symptom isn’t extreme, you may want to consider increasing your vitamin D3 intake.
- You may try cosmetically repairing the issue by filing the nails or polishing over them.
- In the most extreme cases of nail pitting, you can speak with your doctor about getting the nail removed surgically in order for the tissue to grow back completely fresh.
The final sign that you may have psoriatic arthritis? It might be the most unexpected one of all…
11. Eye Complications
Perhaps just as unexpected as nail pitting, those with psoriatic arthritis may experience complications in the eyes as well.
What specific complications can occur?
These complications include the likes of inflammation (uveitis or conjunctivitis), which leads to other irritations of the eyes, such as redness and itchiness. You may even notice your vision getting blurrier.
How does psoriatic arthritis cause eye complications?
Psoriatic arthritis unfortunately means flare-ups. And flare-ups affect the entire body, including your eyes. The area can become inflamed just like your joints, which leads to a host of other eye complications as a result.
How can you manage these complications?
The best course of managing eye complications from psoriatic arthritis? Seeing a doctor right away in order to determine exactly what the issue is. Beyond managing the rest of your psoriatic arthritis symptoms with anti-inflammatory medications, you may have to use specific treatments for your eye conditions.
For instance, conjunctivitis (pink eye) is a common issue that requires symptom relief. So, treatment includes using eye drops, applying both warm and cold compresses, and not wearing contacts.
In the case of issues like uveitis, you’ll undergo a heavier treatment routine since the condition can lead to blindness. For example, you may use corticosteroid eye drops in the beginning to treat it. Later, your doctor may also recommend the use of immunosuppressive medication as well.
What should someone who thinks they have psoriatic arthritis know above all else?…
Psoriatic arthritis can make it difficult to get through your day-to-day routine. Unfortunately, this disease has no cure and can only worsen over time without proper treatment.
That means the best way to prevent the disease from worsening over time is to seek professional help right away. To seek treatment, though, you first have to know that there’s a problem in the first place; that’s where knowing the symptoms of this condition comes in handy.
Management of this condition is possible.
This condition may not be curable, but it is manageable with the right treatment plan. The best way to craft a treatment plan? By talking to a doctor and occupational therapist.