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Psoriatic Arthritis - What is it?

Psoriatic Arthritis - What is it?

Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that commonly occurs in conjunction with a common, chronic skin condition known as psoriasis. Approximately five percent of individuals with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis. Arthritis typically develops after the skin condition. The exact cause of psoriatic arthritis currently is unknown, but it is suspected that genetics play a rule.

How is Psoriatic Arthritis Different than Arthritis

Arthritis occurs when one or more joints become inflamed. This painful inflammation is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage that normally cushions the joint and allows it to move smoothly. When the cartilage deteriorates, the ends of bones rub together, causing inflammation and pain. Psoriatic arthritis usually develops after psoriasis of the skin. Often the arthritis flares at the same time as the skin condition.

Psoriatic arthritis causes the typical symptoms of arthritis including pain, stiffness, and discomfort. It most often occurs in the joints located at the ends of the toes and fingers, but it can affect any joint in the body. In severe cases, the spine may be affected. In addition to arthritis symptoms, those who have psoriatic arthritis typically experience the skin and nail changes of psoriasis at the same time. These symptoms include pitting of the nails, skin patches, and tenderness.

Diagnosing Psoriatic Arthritis

Doctors are typically able to diagnose psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis during a physical examination. During the exam, the doctor will thoroughly examine the skin and nails and ask the patient numerous questions regarding their symptoms. In some cases, x-rays of the joints may be taken to confirm the presence of arthritis.

Treating Psoriatic Arthritis

The symptoms of psoriatic arthritis can usually be managed through prescription medications. Patients are often given nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation and pain in the joints. In more severe cases, stronger medications may be necessary. When joint pain is especially severe, doctors may inject steroid medications. In rare instances in which the joints have suffered extensive damage, surgical joint repair or replacement may be necessary. Doctors may also recommend exercise and physical therapy as a means of helping patients regain flexibility.

Managing Symptoms

In many cases, psoriatic arthritis is relatively mild and only affects a limited number of joints. In rarer situations, severe cases of psoriatic arthritis can develop in the spine, hands, and feet and cause permanent deformities. With treatment, the pain associated with the condition can typically be managed. The prognosis is best and permanent joint deformities are least likely when treatment is started as early as possible.