Psoriatic Arthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Learn the Differences

Medically reviewed by Steve Kim, MD on January 25, 2016Written by Natalie Silver on January 25, 2016

You may think that arthritis is a single condition, but there are many forms of arthritis. Each type can be caused by different underlying factors. Two types of arthritis are psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Both PsA and RA can be very painful, and both begin in the immune system. Still, they’re indeed different conditions and should be treated uniquely.

What Is Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA)?

PsA is related to psoriasis, a genetic condition that causes your immune system to turn over skin cells too quickly. In most cases, psoriasis causes red bumps and silver scales to form on the skin’s surface. PsA is a combination of pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints.

Up to 30 percent of those with psoriasis suffer from PsA. You can also have PsA even if you never have a skin flare-up. This is especially true if you have a family history of psoriasis.

PsA most commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 50. Men and women are equally likely to develop the condition.

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

RA is an autoimmune condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints, particularly in the:

  • hands
  • feet
  • wrists
  • elbows
  • ankles

The immune system attacks the lining of the joints, causing swelling. If RA is left untreated, it can cause bone damage and joint deformity.

This condition affects 1.3 million people in the United States. You may develop RA because of genetics, but many people with it don’t have a family history of the condition.

A majority of those with RA are women, and it’s commonly diagnosed in those from ages 40 to 60.

What Are the Symptoms for Psoriatic Arthritis?


Symptoms commonly caused by PsA include:

  • joint pain in one or more locations
  • swollen fingers and toes, which is called dactylitis
  • back pain, which is known as spondylitis
  • pain where ligaments and tendons join bones, which is referred to as enthesitis

What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?


With RA, you may experience one or more of the following six symptoms:

  • joint pain that can also affect both sides of your body symmetrically
  • stiffness in the morning that lasts from 30 minutes to a few hours
  • loss of energy
  • loss of appetite
  • a fever
  • lumps called “rheumatoid nodules” under the arm’s skin around bony areas
  • irritated eyes
  • dry mouth

You may notice that your joint pain comes and goes. When you experience pain in your joints, it’s called a flare. You may find that RA symptoms appear suddenly, linger, or fade away.

13 Rheumatoid Arthritis Life Hacks

Getting a Diagnosis

If you suspect you have PsA, RA, or another type or arthritis, you should see your doctor to diagnose the condition. It can be difficult to determine PsA or RA in its beginning stages because both conditions can mimic others. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist for further testing.

Both PsA and RA can be diagnosed with the help of blood tests, which can indicate certain inflammatory markers in the blood. You may need X-rays, or you may need an MRI to determine how the condition has affected your joints over time.

Treatments

PsA and RA are both chronic conditions. There’s s no cure for either of them, but there are many ways to manage pain and discomfort.

PsA can affect you at different levels. For minor or temporary pain, you can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If you experience an increased level of discomfort or if the NSAIDs are ineffective, your doctor may prescribe anti-rheumatic or anti-tumor necrosis drugs. For severe cases, you may need steroid injections to alleviate pain or surgery to repair joints.

Put a Stop to Psoriatic Arthritis Pain

There are many treatments for RA that can help you manage your condition. Several medications have been developed in the last 30 years that give people good or excellent relief of RA symptoms. Some medications, such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can stop the progression of the condition. Your treatment plan may also include physical therapy or surgery.

When to See Your Doctor

If you have either PsA or RA, you’ll need to check in with your doctor regularly. If either of these conditions is left untreated, significant damage may be done to your joints. This can lead to possible surgeries or disabilities.

You’re at risk for other health conditions with PsA and RA, so talking with your doctor about your symptoms and any developing conditions is very important.

With the help of your doctor and other medical professionals, you can treat PsA or RA to relieve pain. This should improve your quality of life.

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