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Six Treatment Options for Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis

Medically reviewed by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR on January 22, 2018Written by Catherine Lovering on January 22, 2018
six treatment options

Many people living with psoriasis also experience psoriatic arthritis. Although the conditions are closely linked, each has its own recommended first-line treatment. Together with your doctor you may be able to choose a treatment that improves symptoms or stops progression of the disease.

1. Topical medications

Seventy to 90 percent of people with psoriasis experience itch associated with the condition, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Psoriatic itch may feel like burning or biting on the skin. Topical hydration, such as through rich moisturizers and scale-softening lotions, may ease this symptom.

Some find greater relief from a topical steroid like hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, camphor, or benzocaine. Although these topicals may relieve your itch, they may also cause dryness.

If these prove ineffective, there are prescription options to treat psoriasis itch. These include antihistamines, steroids, capsaicin, and topical anesthetics.

2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

For both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, NSAIDs are a common first-line treatment. Typically available over-the-counter, NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Your doctor may provide a prescription-strength NSAID if appropriate.

NSAIDs are anti-inflammatory medications. They reduce joint pain and swelling, therefore reducing symptoms of psoriatic arthritis (PsA).

Some people experience stomach irritation from NSAIDs. It’s important to take them with food. Other possible side effects of long-term use may include liver and kidney damage, and heart problems.

3. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs reduce immune system activity, thus reducing inflammation. Unlike NSAIDs and topical medications, which treat symptoms of PsA, DMARDs stop the disease progression and, in some autoimmune conditions, rebalance the immune system. This treatment not only relieves pain, but it should also slow joint damage.

This class of drugs can be nonbiologic or biologic. Nonbiologic DMARDs are widely prescribed, notably methotrexate. This medication reduces psoriasis symptoms and may help with PsA. Methotrexate has several potential side effects, including nausea, vomiting, lung inflammation, low white blood cell count, and liver damage.

Leflunomide and sulfasalazine are other nonbiologic DMARDs that may also work against psoriatic arthritis, although their effectiveness in people living with PsA has not yet been shown.

There are also biologic medications that are considered DMARDS, such as Humira and Remicade.

4. Biologics

Biologics are medications made from biological materials. They mimic normal immune system cells and products. They can be created using sources such as proteins, antibodies, and cells. Enbrel, Cosentyx, and Humira are three such biologics used to treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. These medications are highly targeted, which means they may have fewer side effects than other treatment options. However, since these drugs work by blocking a protein important to the immune system, they reduce immune function. This means you may have a higher risk of infections.

5. Immunosuppressants

PsA is the result of an overactive immune system and is considered an autoimmune disease. That’s why a class of immunosuppressant drugs may slow the disease by reducing inflammation and inhibiting the immune attack against your own cells. Examples of immunosuppressants are azathioprine and cyclosporine.

Both of these medications may ease the joint pain and swelling characteristic of PsA. Each also has potential side effects. For cyclosporine, side effects can include nausea, vomiting, liver and kidney problems, and birth defects. Azathioprine may cause stomach irritation and rash.

6. Alternative and complementary therapies

PsA and psoriasis are long-term conditions, so it’s common for people to seek alternative or complementary therapies to improve their physical and emotional well-being. Stress often triggers psoriasis flares. Using mind-body techniques such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi may assist with overall health and potentially improve your symptoms.

Nutrition, diet, and exercise can also help keep PsA symptoms under control. Keeping a healthy weight reduces pressure on the joints and lowers systemic inflammation. In general, exercising releases feel-good endorphins, which may improve your overall mood.

The takeaway

Your doctor can help determine the best treatment plan for you, based on your symptoms. Some people find it helpful to monitor their symptoms and treatments in a journal. Over time, you’ll discover what medications work well to manage your psoriasis and PsA.

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