Introduction to Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis
Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder. The most common symptoms are silvery-white to reddish patches of scaly skin. Some people with psoriasis will also be diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in affected joints. Although these conditions may appear unrelated, both reflect underlying immune system dysfunction. Drugs to suppress immune system activity are among the most effective treatments for these conditions. Some drugs are applied directly to the skin, while others are taken orally. It’s important to treat psoriatic arthritis as early as possible to minimize joint damage.
The Psoriasis and Arthritis Connection
Patches of flaky, inflamed skin are the hallmark of psoriasis. These lesions, or plaques, reflect an underlying immune system dysfunction. Some people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis. For most, this occurs within 10 years of the onset of psoriasis. Experts estimate that one-third to one-half of those with psoriasis will eventually develop psoriatic arthritis.
Plaques are visible signs of disease activity. Psoriatic arthritis is a less visible, but related condition. This form of arthritis is experienced as pain, stiffness, and swelling in any number of joints. It also reflects an underlying immune system dysfunction. Sometimes it strikes the joints on only one side of the body. Most commonly, it affects the joints of the ankles and lower spine. It's important to treat psoriatic arthritis early to prevent permanent joint damage.
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.
Psoriatic arthritis is another manifestation of a dysfunctional immune system. Rather than protecting the body against foreign invaders, white blood cells target the body’s tissues. In the joints, they trigger an inflammatory response. This causes the gradual destruction of joint cartilage. If allowed to progress, this process eventually results in twisted, painful, swollen joints that no longer function.
Treating Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis
Some people treat their occasional, mild symptoms with remedies applied directly to the skin. Similarly, mild psoriatic arthritis 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.
Most doctors prescribe either a systemic or biologic drug for those with moderate to severe psoriasis. Systemic, immune-suppressing drugs often provide relief. But the risk of secondary infections is greater when using these drugs. Side effects are also common. Biologics are a newer class of drugs. They target specific parts of the immune system more precisely.
Treatments for Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis
Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that arises from psoriasis. Both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis indicate an underlying immune system dysfunction. Treatment often begins with over-the-counter and prescription drugs. More severe cases can be treated with systemic or biologic drugs.