You may know a bit about the skin symptoms associated with psoriasis, and you may also know about the joint pain of classic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is a combination of both skin and arthritic symptoms, but the inflammation that drives the condition makes symptom management difficult. Learn more about the effects of psoriatic arthritis on the body, as well as symptoms to watch for.
The effects of psoriatic arthritis on the body
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a form of arthritis that can develop within 10 years of developing psoriasis. Skin psoriasis causes flare-ups of red, patchy skin that can occur anywhere on the body.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 30 percent of people with psoriasis eventually develop PsA. In some cases, it’s diagnosed before you have skin psoriasis because the symptoms might be more noticeable. It’s also possible to develop PsA without psoriasis, especially if you have a family history of psoriasis. Both skin psoriasis and inflammatory types of arthritis are considered autoimmune disorders.
PsA is a chronic, or long-term, condition. Anyone can get it, but it’s most common in middle-age adults. Since there’s no cure, treatment aims at symptom management and preventing permanent joint damage.
PsA affects many parts of the body and targets larger joints, including those of your lower extremities and the distal joints of your fingers and toes. Symptoms range from mild flare-ups to some that can be chronic.
PsA causes inflammation in your joints. It can affect a single joint or many. Stiff, swollen, and painful joints are classic symptoms.
Inflammation in your knees or shoulders can limit range of motion, making it hard to move freely. It can even cause severe neck and back pain and make it difficult for your spine to bend.
Your fingers and toes may swell, causing a sausage-like appearance. One of the more common symptoms of PsA is soreness where your tendons and ligaments connect to your bones. This causes pain in your heel, the sole of your foot, and around your elbows.
Low-impact exercise, especially water exercise, can help keep your joints become more flexible. Physical and occupational therapy may be useful to help strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. Walking is one of the best exercises and shoe inserts can help lessen the impact on your joints.
About 5 percent of people with PsA can develop arthritis mutilans. This is a less common but more severe form of arthritis that can destroy the joints of your hands and feet, leading to permanent disfigurement and disability. Medications such as biologics can prevent this damage.
Skin, hair, and nails
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes rough, red patches to form on your skin. It sometimes looks like silvery scales. Symptoms include tenderness and itching. Patches can form anywhere but tend to show up around your elbows, knees, hands, and feet. The skin around your joints can appear cracked. In some cases, skin lesions or blisters may form.
Patches on your scalp can range from what resembles a mild case of dandruff to severe shedding. The big difference is that scalp psoriasis causes larger scales that are also red and extremely itchy. Scratching may cause flakes in your hair and on your shoulders.
Your fingernails and toenails may become thick, ridged, or discolored. They can grow abnormally, develop pits, or even separate from the nail bed.
Eyes and vision
Studies have found that psoriasis can also lead to vision problems. Inflammatory lesions such as conjunctivitis are the most likely side effect. In very rare cases, psoriasis might cause a loss of vision.
Uveitis, a condition in which the middle layer of your eye swells, can be the result of PsA.
Chronic inflammation can damage the cartilage that covers the ends of your bones. As the condition progresses, damaged cartilage then causes the bones to rub against each other. Besides weakening your bones, this process weakens surrounding ligaments, tendons, and muscles, which leads to inadequate joint support. This can make you lose the desire to stay active, which can inadvertently make your symptoms worse.
It’s important to engage in regular moderate exercise so you keep your muscles strong. Ask your doctor to recommend an exercise program or a physical therapist who can teach you how to exercise without stressing your joints.
Sometimes in autoimmune conditions, your body mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. With PsA, your immune system attacks your joints, tendons, and ligaments. PsA is a lifelong condition but you may experience periodic attacks followed by remission.
Physical pain and discomfort, along with the chronic nature of the disease, can have an impact on your emotional health. PsA may increase your risk for anxiety and depression. You might feel embarrassment, low self-esteem, and sadness. You might also feel extremely worried and uncertain about the future of your condition.
Mental health risks are especially high in cases where PsA isn’t managed. If you start to notice symptoms of depression or anxiety, get in touch with a healthcare professional who can help you with treatment options.
Other effects of PsA include extreme fatigue and restlessness. You may also have a slightly raised risk for developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. A healthy diet, regular moderate exercise, and a good night’s sleep go a long way towards helping you manage your overall condition. Ask your doctor for complementary health techniques that can help.