Why It’s Important to Catch Psoriatic Arthritis Early

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Close-up of rheumatologist or joint doctor examining left hand of young female patient

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an autoimmune disease that affects about a third of people with psoriasis. Psoriasis is also an autoimmune disease; it occurs when your immune system incorrectly attacks your skin cells, causing rapid cell growth that results in raised, scaly patches on the skin. With psoriatic arthritis, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to inflammation, soreness, and stiffness. Over time, if untreated, psoriatic arthritis can cause damage to your joints and significantly impact your quality of life. If you have psoriasis, it’s important to know your risk of psoriatic arthritis and be aware of the signs it’s developing so you can take action. Diagnosing psoriatic arthritis early can get you started on treatment faster and help you lessen or completely avoid permanent joint damage.

Signs of Psoriatic Arthritis

The first signs of PsA usually appear between ages 30 and 50, but not always. Some people develop symptoms as early as childhood. Psoriatic arthritis symptoms can come and go in episodes called flares. You might only have flares from time to time. Or you might have frequent bouts of symptoms.

Most people with psoriatic arthritis will develop psoriasis first, sometimes years before their joints become affected. Plaque psoriasis, the most common type, is characterized by red, purple, or brown skin patches covered with silvery or grey scales. If you’re diagnosed with psoriasis, your doctor will likely educate you about psoriatic arthritis and list the symptoms you should keep an eye out for, including:

  • Pain, stiffness, redness, and swelling in joints on one or both sides of your body
  • Reduced range of motion in your joints
  • Lower back pain
  • Swollen fingers and toes
  • Pain in your heel or the sole of your foot

Some psoriatic arthritis symptoms are less obvious. About 7% of people with PsA develop a condition called uveitis, in which inflammation causes redness and pain in the eye. Fatigue is also common. Psoriatic arthritis fatigue is more severe than the normal tiredness you feel when you don’t sleep well.

Let your doctor know about symptoms like these as soon as possible. It can be helpful to carefully track any symptoms each day so your doctor can get a full picture of what you’re experiencing and make a diagnosis.

Benefits of Diagnosing Psoriatic Arthritis Early

Psoriatic arthritis is a progressive disease. That means it will get worse over time if you don’t treat it.

In its later stages, psoriatic arthritis damages and disfigures the joints. Damage to joints like your knees or shoulders can limit your daily activities. And the effects of psoriatic arthritis on the joints can be permanent. Diagnosing psoriatic arthritis early can slow or even prevent damage and preserve your joint function.

When you have psoriatic arthritis, you’re also slightly more likely to develop other chronic conditions, like heart disease, depression, and diabetes. Managing inflammation helps reduce your risk of these problems, too. Once you’re diagnosed, you can take preventive steps to protect yourself from these conditions, such as:

  • Taking disease-modifying medications to control inflammation in your body
  • Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising to trim excess weight, improve flexibility, and build muscle
  • Treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol

A few sore joints might not point you straight to arthritis, especially if you exercise a lot. Still, it’s important to let your doctor know about symptoms like these, especially if psoriatic arthritis or another autoimmune disease runs in your family. Psoriatic arthritis treatments have come a long way. Biologics are a new type of medication that can in some cases treat both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis effectively so you don’t need to take multiple therapies. Starting on these or other treatments early on can slow or stop the progression of psoriatic arthritis, and help you stay active.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 19
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