Early signs of psoriatic arthritis
Stiff, achy joints are a common complaint. But if your joints are consistently swollen and sore, it may be a sign of something more serious.
People may be familiar with osteoarthritis (the wear-and-tear type of arthritis) as the most common cause of joint pain — it affects more than 32 million American adults. But it’s not the only kind of arthritis, and damage from arthritis isn’t necessarily restricted to the joints. In some cases, joint pain can be one symptom of a more complex condition.
What is psoriatic arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a chronic condition that results when your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissue in your joints. This results in swollen, stiff and painful joints.
Unlike other types of arthritis, PsA also affects the skin. In addition to joint pain, people with psoriatic arthritis typically experience psoriasis. This is a skin condition characterized by red, scaly patches that develop mostly on the knees, elbows and scalp.
Psoriatic arthritis symptoms can come and go. But the disease is progressive and can permanently damage your joints over time. With proper treatment, you can help preserve your joints, reduce symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
Who’s at risk for psoriatic arthritis?
About 8 million people in the U.S. have the skin condition called psoriasis. About 30% of them will eventually develop psoriatic arthritis. The condition affects men and women equally. In rare cases, people develop psoriatic arthritis before they show any signs of psoriasis rashes.
Additional factors that may increase your risk for psoriatic arthritis include:
- Having a family member who also has psoriatic arthritis
- Being between 30 and 50 years old (although PsA can develop at any age)
- Being Caucasian (the condition affects nearly three times more Caucasians than African Americans)
- Experiencing trauma to or infection in the joints
What are the early signs of psoriatic arthritis?
There is no one symptom that defines psoriatic arthritis. The condition typically comes with a variety of symptoms, which can vary from person to person.
If you have psoriasis or other risk factors for PsA, be on the alert for these possible early signs of psoriatic arthritis — particularly if you experience more than one:
- A thick, red rash or scaly patches of silvery white skin
- Stiff, painful, swollen, warm joints (large joints like knees or small ones in your fingers)
- Inflammation in your eyes (causing redness and blurred vision)
- Changes to your nails, including pitting (small dents on the surface) or nails that separate from the nail bed
- Sausage-like swelling of a whole finger or toe (not just a swollen joint)
- Foot pain caused by swelling of the tendons and ligaments of the foot and heel
For people who have psoriatic arthritis, certain triggers may cause a flare-up of symptoms. Possible triggers include:
- Infections or wounds
- Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
- Cold weather
- Excessive alcohol intake
When should you see a doctor about psoriatic arthritis symptoms?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to psoriatic arthritis, you should see your doctor. If your only symptoms are psoriasis rashes or other skin or nail changes, consult a dermatologist. If you are experiencing joint pain, stiffness or swelling, you should see a rheumatologist.
The doctor will take your medical and family history and perform a full physical exam. They’ll check your joints for signs of swelling and assess your range of motion. They may also do X-rays, ultrasound or an MRI to look closely at the joints for any damage. Blood tests can check for signs of inflammation as well as rheumatoid factor. If you test positive for rheumatoid factor, that’s an indication that you may have a different kind of arthritis called rheumatoid arthritis. There is no one test that determines if you have psoriatic arthritis.
Why is early diagnosis and treatment so important?
People with psoriatic arthritis symptoms often struggle to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. But getting diagnosed and starting treatment as soon as possible are important because there is currently no cure for psoriatic arthritis. So prompt management is key to avoid progressive and permanent damage to your joints.
The sooner you start treatment, the better you will feel. That also means keeping your joints healthier and moving well for years.