Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder. The most common symptoms are silvery-white to reddish patches of scaly skin. People with psoriasis will also have patches of flaky, inflamed skin.
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a condition that arises from psoriasis. Like other types of arthritis, PsA causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in affected joints. Those with psoriasis are often diagnosed with PsA within 10 years of the onset of psoriasis. Experts estimate that one-third to one-half of those with psoriasis will eventually develop PsA.
The Psoriasis and PsA Connection
While psoriasis and PsA may appear unrelated, both reflect underlying immune system dysfunction. Psoriasis is typically diagnosed by the onset of plaques, while PsA affects the joints, typically the ankles and lower spine.
Psoriasis is more noticeable or apparent, so it’s easier to diagnosis than PsA. PsA can come in many forms, and can trigger other side effects like fatigue and reduced movement.
The Effects of Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis
The most common form of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis, also known as psoriasis vulgaris. It affects about 80 to 90 percent of all psoriasis patients. It’s characterized by plaques that arise on the skin. Plaques are scaly patches of raised, silver-white, or reddish skin. Psoriasis is a chronic disease, so it never goes away. But disease activity may rise and fall. Likewise, plaques may come and go. Some lesions may be disfiguring or painful, affecting a person’s quality of life.
For those with PsA, white blood cells target the body’s tissues rather than protecting the body against foreign invaders. In the joints, they trigger an inflammatory response which can lead to the gradual destruction of joint cartilage. If allowed to progress, this process eventually results in twisted, painful, swollen joints that no longer function. Joint pain may be widespread, or may only occur on one side of the body.
Some people treat their occasional, mild symptoms of psoriasis with remedies applied directly to the skin. Similarly, mild PsA flares may occasionally be treated with over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. But these remedies only provide symptomatic relief. They don't address the underlying problem of a faulty immune system.
Drugs to suppress immune system activity are among the most effective treatments for psoriasis and PsA. Systemic, immune-suppressing drugs often provide relief. But the risk of secondary infections and side effects is greater when using these drugs. A newer class of drugs called biologics target specific parts of the immune system more precisely.
Talk to your doctor if you begin to experience joint pain or weakness. It’s important to treat PsA as early as possible to minimize joint damage.