The basics of psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory arthritis that affects up to 30% of people who have psoriasis, according to The Arthritis Society. This condition causes pain and swelling in joints – usually the joints of the fingers and toes, although it can also involve the wrists, knees, ankles, spine, and sacroiliac joints (located in the lower back where the spine connects with the hips).

The primary symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include:

  • pain and swelling around joints, particularly in the fingers and toes
  • pain and swelling in areas where tendons and ligaments attach to bone (such as your heel)
  • "pitting" (small holes or indentations) on fingernails or toenails
  • "lifting" of fingernails or toenails
  • decrease in range of motion of joints
  • stiffness and tiredness that occurs in the morning
  • silver scales on the skin around the scalp, knees, elbows, or lower back
  • back pain (if present at all) that increases primarily at night and in the morning

Psoriatic arthritis can affect both men and women of all races, and can appear at any time, although the onset usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 50. Usually it affects people who have already been diagnosed with psoriasis (typically, if psoriatic arthritis does appear, it does so about 10 years after the onset of psoriasis). About 15% of people with psoriatic arthritis develop this condition before their skin shows typical signs of psoriasis (raised, red, scaly patches).

Psoriatic arthritis is one of the less common forms of arthritis, and its cause is not well established, although it is known to be linked to psoriasis. Heredity is thought to play an important role, as many people who have the condition also have family members with psoriatic arthritis or psoriasis. If one of your parents has psoriatic arthritis, your chances of developing the condition increase three-fold. Other possible causes are believed to be related to environmental factors as well as to the individual’s immune system.

If you think you may have psoriatic arthritis, or if you have any concerns about possibly developing it, speak to your physician. This condition can develop slowly or quickly, and an early diagnosis can help control and treat its effects.

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