Although the skin condition psoriasis—which causes patches of itchy, red, scaly skin—causes symptoms on the body’s surface, its cause is something deeper: an immune system dysfunction.
Because it’s rooted in the immune system, psoriasis can cause arthritic symptoms and joint pain in addition to the skin problems. This is known as psoriatic arthritis and it affects about 10% of those with psoriasis.
What causes psoriatic arthritis?
No one knows what causes psoriasis, let alone what causes it to develop into psoriatic arthritis, but there are several factors that seem to raise your risk:
- Your genes. Studies have shown that patients with close relatives with psoriasis have more than a 40% risk of developing psoriatic arthritis.
- Your environment. Researchers believe infectious bacteria such as Streptococci and Staphylococci, as well as physical trauma, may raise your risk for developing psoriasis.
- Your immune system. Psoriatic arthritis can occur in people with immune system abnormalities as well as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
How is the condition treated?
Both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis tend to cause symptoms in cycles, and an active period is known as a flare. They are not necessarily synced up—people may have a flare of skin rashes at a different time as a flare of joint pain.
Fortunately there are treatment options both to help contain symptoms during a flare and to control the condition long-term and help prevent joint damage.
Treatments for psoriatic arthritis include:
- Several types of medications, including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologic agents such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to help relieve pain and inflammation
- Topical treatments, including moisturizing creams and soaps for milder outbreaks and/or doctor-prescribed steroid creams for more severe ones
- Light therapy, which can help heal skin symptoms
- Exercise, which helps relieve stiffness and maintain strength in the muscles around affected joints. Try walking, water exercise, exercise bike, yoga, or stretching.
- Hot and cold therapy can ease pain, stiffness, and inflammation
Although there is no cure for psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, early detection and treatment can help minimize symptoms and make living with the condition much more manageable.