Causes and Treatments for Psoriatic Arthritis

Statistics from the National Psoriasis Foundation indicate that an estimated 8 million Americans suffer with psoriasis, and approximately 30% of those patients are at risk of developing psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is an arthritic condition that affects patients who also have psoriasis. However, oftentimes, arthritis symptoms (i.e., joint pain, swelling, and stiffness) begin to appear prior to psoriasis symptoms (i.e., redness, inflammation, dry, scaly skin). Psoriatic arthritis (PA) must be treated and managed, or permanent joint damage can occur. This condition is also similar to other forms of arthritis (i.e., rheumatoid arthritis) in that it’s marked by periods of flare ups, followed by durations of time where no symptoms are evident, known as remission.

Also similar in nature to rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which is triggered when the immune system regards healthy tissues and cells as a threat, and launches an attack on these tissues in response. In the case of psoriatic arthritis, the immune system targets the skin and joints, leading to a domino effect of joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and immobility followed by skin symptoms (i.e., inflamed, red and white dry patches of itchy skin). Psoriatic arthritis flare ups are often triggered by an external factors, such as:

  • Low immunity (i.e., skin wounds, infection)
  • Weather (i.e., Cold, dry weather)
  • Dry heat (i.e., high furnaces)
  • Medications (i.e., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Aleve)
  • Vitamin D deficiency (or lack of sun exposure)
  • Excessive skin bacteria
  • High stress
  • Exposure to smoke (i.e., cigarettes)
  • Excessive alcohol use

It’s important to be able to identify your triggers from the list above, in order to reduce psoriatic arthritis flare ups and reduce the severity of symptoms. It’s also important to know what type of psoriatic arthritis you suffer from:

1. Distal psoriatic arthritis
Distal psoriatic arthritis is marked by joint stiffness and swelling that primarily strikes the fingers and toes. It can also cause white spots, and pitting and damage to fingernail beds and toenails.

2. Asymmetric psoriatic arthritis
This form is deemed “asymmetric” because it doesn’t target joints in a similar pattern or location on both sides of the patient’s body, but attacks joints in a more random nature.

3. Spondylitis
Spondylitis psoriatic arthritis specifically targets joints, causing stiffness and discomfort along the neck and spinal areas.

4. Arthritis mutilans
While this type is considered the most severe, it only strikes 5% of patients, resulting in complete damage and deformity in smaller joints (i.e., ends of toes and fingers).

5. Symmetric psoriatic arthritis
Perhaps the most common type of psoriatic arthritis (50% of patients), this form is the opposite of asymmetric PA, triggering pain and immobility in joints on the same side of the body.