A diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis (PsA) can be life-changing. You likely have many questions about what it means to live with PsA and how to best treat it.
Here are 11 questions you may be asking yourself, along with their answers. Hopefully, these can help you better understand treatment, lifestyle modifications, and more related to PsA.
PsA is a chronic condition that affects your joints. Unfortunately, there is no cure.
Still, it’s essential to seek treatment to avoid deterioration in your joints. Ignoring symptoms and delaying medical treatment could cause serious damage to your body in the long run. There are many treatments available to slow the progression of the condition and avoid severe joint damage.
Some people experience remission, meaning they have no symptoms of PsA. This happens in about five percent of cases.
PsA can affect any joint in your body, including large joints like your knees and shoulders and smaller joints in your fingers and toes. You may even experience symptoms in your spine.
You can experience inflammation in one joint at a time, a few at a time, or many all at once. PsA can also cause inflammation in parts of your body that connect to your bones, like tendons and ligaments. This inflammation is called enthesitis.
You may be at greater risk of developing another health condition if you have PsA.
There are several additional conditions that can occur if you have PsA, including:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- metabolic syndrome
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Discuss the risks for these conditions with your doctor. You may need to adjust your lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing these other conditions.
Treating PsA often involves different medications and lifestyle modifications. You’ll need to work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you and your symptoms. PsA treatment can involve a combination of treatment methods.
Some of the goals of treating your PsA are to:
- reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling of your joints
- target other symptoms of PsA
- stop or slow the progression of PsA
- maintain mobility in your joints
- avoid or reduce potential complications from PsA
- improve your quality of life
Factors that may affect treatment include the severity of your PsA, the damage it has done to your body, previous treatments, and whether you have any other medical conditions.
A new concept for treating PsA is identified as the “treat to target” approach, where the end goal is remission of PsA.
When you discuss treatment options with your doctor, consider the following questions:
- What does the treatment do?
- How often will I need to take or undergo this treatment?
- Do I need to avoid anything when trying this treatment or taking this medication?
- Are there side effects and risks of the treatment?
- How long does it take to notice the effects of the treatment?
You should talk to your doctor regularly about your treatment to make sure your plan is effective for your current situation. You may need to adjust treatments as needed based on your symptoms and lifestyle.
Addressing pain may be a priority for you. The inflammation surrounding your joints can be uncomfortable. This can also affect your mental well-being and overall quality of life.
Your doctor may recommend using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or aspirin as a first-line treatment for pain caused by PsA. More severe pain or pain that doesn’t diminish by using these treatments may require more intense medications. For example, biologics are given by injection or intravenously.
If your pain doesn’t respond to these methods, your doctor may recommend medications that help with neurological pain or your sensitivity to pain.
You may also want to try other methods of pain relief and relaxation techniques. These may include meditation, acupuncture, or yoga.
Treating PsA early can help you avoid more invasive treatments like surgery.
Surgery may help ease discomfort, improve function, and repair damaged joints. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair damage to your tendons or even to replace a joint.
Managing PsA will require regular visits to your doctor. Your doctor will likely want you to come in every few months or a few times a year to monitor your PsA. The number of times you see your doctor varies depending on the severity of your condition and the specific medications you’re taking, as medications have different monitoring schedules.
Regular visits to the doctor may include:
- a physical exam
- a discussion about your current treatment
- blood tests to measure inflammation
- X-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds to observe changes to your joints
Other specialists you may need to see include the following:
- physical therapist
- occupational therapist
Your team of doctors can help you treat all aspects of PsA. This includes symptoms related to psoriasis and other comorbid conditions, as well as your mental health.
Treating PsA can involve more than just medication and surgery. Making modifications to your lifestyle may help ease symptoms and even delay the progression of the condition.
Here are a few changes you can make to manage your PsA:
- maintain a healthy weight
- exercise regularly, following instructions from your doctor
- rest when needed
- manage your stress levels
- stop smoking
- monitor your symptoms so you can avoid behaviors that aggravate or trigger symptoms
You should also stay organized if you have PsA to help you keep track of appointments and medications.
You may think you should only rest when you have stiffness and pain in your joints. But exercise can actually minimize pain and help you move around. It can also help with your stress levels, improve your mental outlook, and decrease your risk of developing a comorbid health condition.
Your doctor or a physical therapist can recommend healthy ways to exercise if you have PsA. Low-impact exercise may be best for you, like walking, bicycling, or swimming. You may also find that yoga or lightweight strength training is appropriate for you.
If needed, your doctor can recommend exercise equipment or adjustments to accommodate your PsA symptoms.
Your diet can play a role in your PsA symptoms. Changing what you eat won’t treat the PsA itself, but it may be able to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Maintaining a healthy weight is an important aspect for managing your PsA. A 2018 examined 55 studies on diet and psoriasis and PsA. Researchers recommend eating a reduced-calorie diet if you are overweight or obese. Reaching a healthy weight can lessen PsA symptoms.
The study also mentioned that taking vitamin D supplements may have positive effects on PsA symptoms.
You can begin a reduced-calorie diet by cutting out unnecessary carbohydrates and practicing portion control. Regular exercise can also help you lose weight.
You don’t need to cut out wheat or other forms of gluten if you don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
You should be able to resume work activities after a PsA diagnosis. But you may want to make adjustments at work to manage your symptoms.
Discuss modifications with your manager. For example, you may need to adjust your work schedule to attend doctor’s appointments or use assistive devices to help you work. Scheduling regular breaks can help minimize joint pain and stiffness.
After a PsA diagnosis, you likely have an endless amount of questions about your future. Talk to your doctor and learn as much as you can on your own about treatments, lifestyle changes, and symptom management. Becoming knowledgeable about PsA is the first step to living a healthy and happy life despite your condition.