Of the approximately 7.5 million Americans who have psoriasis, about 30 percent will develop psoriatic arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. People who have psoriasis are at a higher risk for arthritis, diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are chronic inflammatory conditions. There’s no cure. But developing a good relationship with your doctor can help you to manage your symptoms. It’s important to maintain an open conversation about how you’re feeling and how you can improve your health.
1. Should I take medication?
Your doctor may recommend one of a range of drugs to manage mild to severe symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. Treatment often begins with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Typically, you can buy these without a prescription. To relieve itch associated with psoriasis, over-the-counter moisturizers, lotions, and cold packs may be effective.
For more severe arthritis pain, your doctor may recommend disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which stop the disease from getting worse. More advanced options are biologics. They can reduce inflammation by stopping the immune system from overworking. Biologics do this by targeting specific pathways and proteins that are involved in inflammation.
Steroids are another treatment option. They’re injected directly into the joint, but only relieve inflammation temporarily. One benefit of this type of treatment is that it works more quickly than others, according to The Mayo Clinic.
2. What about side effects?
Both over-the-counter and prescription drugs have side effects. You may develop a new reaction to a drug you’ve taken before, or you may develop new symptoms, which could suggest a medication reaction. Be sure to track the results of any medication. If the problems outweigh the benefits, your doctor may be able to offer a different treatment that won’t be so hard on your body.
Don’t worry if you don’t know whether what you’re experiencing is a side effect of a specific medication. Simply take note of what you are experiencing, especially if it’s out of the ordinary. Your doctor can help you figure out the cause.
3. Is surgery an option?
Some people with psoriatic arthritis have surgery to replace joints damaged by the condition. The replacement joints are plastic or metal. This option is reserved for cases where joints are severely damaged.
4. Are new treatments available?
New medications to treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are developed on an ongoing basis. If you want to discuss new options to manage your health, ask your doctor for solutions. The National Psoriasis Foundation has a list of drugs in development that one day may be appropriate for you.
Since your experience with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis is likely to change over time, you’ll want to keep talking to your doctor about your treatment plan. Sometimes a drug that’s worked for years suddenly has no effect, or you develop a side effect or medication-induced reaction. Your doctor can work with you to update your medications and dosage as appropriate.
5. What triggers psoriasis flares?
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 10 percent of the population has the genes that cause psoriasis. However, only 2 to 3 percent of people who have the genes develop the condition. Psoriasis might flare up in response to stress, trauma, infections, certain medications, or injury to the skin.
6. How can I reduce the frequency of flares?
Stress is a common trigger for psoriasis flares and psoriasis itch. You may be able to stave off flare-ups by practicing stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, mindfulness, and exercise. Joining a support group can also help. Meeting other people who have psoriasis may help alleviate some of the stress associated with living with a chronic condition. One-on-one counseling is another option.
7. What steps can I take at home to reduce pain?
Listening to your body is one of the most important steps you can take to managing psoriatic arthritis. Exercising is another. Physical activity produces endorphins that help your mood. Eating well and maintaining a healthy weight is equally important because it puts less pressure on the joints. Obesity has also been linked to inflammation.
Knowing when it’s time to rest is also key. To protect your joints, use aids such as jar openers instead of letting your fingers do all the work. Wherever possible, lift items using both arms instead of one.
8. How often should I see my doctor?
First and foremost, it’s crucial that you see your doctor regularly. According to the Arthritis Foundation, you may see your doctor less if you have mild symptoms. If you have more severe symptoms, your doctor may suggest more frequent visits.
Depending on risk factors and the medications you use, you may need to get monthly blood tests. In general, monitoring your condition usually means having checkups every six to eight weeks. Some people may only see their physician every three months or less. Talk to your doctor about which symptoms require monitoring and subsequent follow-up appointments.
9. Should I review my test results?
If your doctor ran tests, ask for a copy of the results. Even if your doctor thinks you’re doing fine, it often helps for you to keep track of your numbers. The Arthritis Foundation notes that your first results establish a baseline. Your test results help you monitor your own health.
10. What if I have questions between appointments?
You won’t see your doctor every day, but you live with your condition every day. Ask your doctor for resources that you can use between appointments. They may direct you to a support group. Organizations like the National Psoriasis Foundation also have information online about how to manage your symptoms.
Your doctor is the best source for individualized, one-on-one attention and advice. But keep asking questions to help you better take control of your wellness.
Living with psoriasis can be an every-day challenge. It requires you to pay close attention to your body and monitor it for any changes, both subtle and significant. People who have psoriasis are at a higher risk for arthritis, diabetes, depression, and heart disease. If you smoke, it’s very important that you try to quit. It’s also important to communicate with your doctor regarding any changes you may encounter within your body so that your treatment plan can be adjusted accordingly.