What is psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition characterized by a rapid turnover of your skin cells. The excess skin cells create scaly lesions on your skin, called flare-ups. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop a condition called psoriatic arthritis (PsA).

PsA is an autoimmune condition that occurs when your body attacks your healthy joints and causes inflammation. Without treatment, PsA can cause permanent joint damage.

Most people who develop PsA develop psoriasis symptoms first. However, this isn’t always the case. Keep reading to learn about symptoms of PsA.

Joint swelling occurs with psoriatic as well as other types of arthritis. But PsA commonly causes a unique type of swelling in your fingers or toes.

With PsA, you may actually notice a “sausage-like” swelling in your fingers and toes around your joint before you notice any symptoms in your joints themselves. This swelling can be very painful and cause permanent deformities in your fingers and toes if not treated.

Joint pain is a symptom in most forms of arthritis, but PsA is more likely to also cause pain in your tendons. Your tendons attach your muscles to your bones. PsA often causes tendon pain in your feet.

Two conditions that can occur with PsA are plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.

Plantar fasciitis is the most common and occurs when the tendon that connects your heel to your toes becomes inflamed. This causes pain at the bottom of your foot.

In Achilles tendinitis, the tendon that connects your lower calf muscles to your heel bone becomes inflamed. People with this condition experience pain in their heel.

A secondary condition called spondylitis may occur with PsA. Spondylitis leads to joint inflammation in two main areas: between your pelvis and spine (sacroiliac region), and between your spine’s vertebral bodies. This leads to lower-back pain.

Psoriatic spondylitis occurs in about 20 percent of people who have psoriatic arthritis.

PsA can cause you to feel stiff and inflexible in the morning. This stiffness might make it difficult to move joints on either or both sides of your body.

You might notice similar stiffness when you first stand up after sitting in one spot for a period of time. As you start moving around, you’ll often feel less stiff. But it can last up to 45 minutes or longer.

Just like psoriasis, PsA can cause many nail problems and changes. These include “pitting,” or the formation of depressions in your fingernails or toenails. You may also notice your nail separating from your nail bed.

Sometimes nail dysfunctions can appear similar to fungal infections.

If your nails on either your hands or feet look discolored or have indentations, this could be a sign of psoriatic arthritis. In later stages, the nails can crumble and may become very damaged.

As many as 85 percent of people with PsA experience the skin problems associated with psoriasis before they notice joint issues.

The red, scaly rash that appears on the body is common in people with PsA.

As many as 30 percent of people with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis.

People with PsA often feel tired due to the pain and inflammation caused by this autoimmune disorder. Some arthritis medications may also cause a general fatigue.

Fatigue may have broader health implications for people with PsA, as it can make it more difficult to conduct daily activities and stay physically active. This can lead to other problems, such as obesity and mood changes.

The stiffness and pain in joints and the swelling and tenderness in tendons can lead to reduced motion. Your own range of motion will depend on the severity of your other symptoms. It will also depend on how many joints are affected.

Exercising regularly can help you loosen up your joints. Pick exercises that help your range-of-motion.

Eye swelling and pain are other symptoms of PsA. According to research, around 30 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis experience eye inflammation.

Other possible eye problems that may go hand-in-hand with psoriatic arthritis include dry eye, vision changes, and lid swelling. If left untreated, dry eye can cause permanent damage to the eye and interfere with the effectiveness of glaucoma treatment. Studies suggest that 40–50 percent of glaucoma patients have dry eye syndrome.

People with psoriatic arthritis often have anemia. Anemia is when you don’t have enough red blood cells that function properly. Anemia can cause:

  • fatigue
  • paleness
  • shortness of breath
  • headache

The anemia associated with psoriatic arthritis is most often mild. If you have other symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, your doctor may perform a blood test to see if you’re anemic.

Because many forms of arthritis are often similar, talk to your doctor if you think you have arthritis. A medical examination and discussion of your medical history and symptoms will help your doctor make a diagnosis.

Your doctor can also give you a blood test to help detect some telltale signs of psoriatic arthritis, such as a high inflammation level and anemia.

Proper diagnosis and treatment can help you avoid permanent joint damage and relieve pain.