According to the Arthritis Foundation, up to 42 percent of those with psoriasis may also acquire psoriatic arthritis at some point during their chronic illness. Keep in mind that the term “arthritis” is used as an informal way to describe a series of diseases that relate to joint pain, and that there are over 100 different types of joint conditions, including psoriatic disease.
The difference between various forms of arthritis depends on the location of the joint pain and the reason for the onset of the disease. The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) advises that in the case of psoriatic arthritis, a patient will most commonly experience pain in the fingers, toes, and larger joints, e.g., the lower back and knees. Other symptoms may include fatigue and nail changes, such as pitting and discoloration. The NPF provides an assessment tool that asks five simple questions about one's symptoms in order to determine if you should talk to your health care provider about the possibility of having psoriatic arthritis. Click here to take the quiz.
For the past few months, I’ve woken up with stiff and painful joints. Initially I thought that maybe I was going too hard with my exercise or I was keeping it too cold in my house during the summer. But each day I woke up and the pain was there. Some days are better than others, but my symptoms tell me I may have to face my fears of having arthritis. Deep down I really don’t want to know, because knowing forces me to face the new realities of an additional issue to psoriasis. On the other hand, I know that by ignoring these symptoms, I'll only be doing myself a disservice. The NPF stresses that “early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of psoriatic arthritis can help prevent or limit extensive joint damage.” My mind is flooded with what the new findings will mean for the future of my health. I think about:
- How much more money will I have to pay out of pocket to see a rheumatologist?
- How much worse will my disease become?
- What meds will I have to consider taking?
- What will this mean in terms of my desire to have kids?
And those are just a few of the thoughts racing through my mind.
Although fewer than half of those with psoriasis will get arthritis, as well, all of us are at risk due to having an autoimmune disease. This new challenge can be scary, but there is help if you believe that you might have psoriatic disease.
Keep track of your symptoms: Your doctor is going to ask you when, and where, you feel the most pain. Keep a journal — in a notebook or on your phone or tablet — answering the following questions:
- At what time of day do my joints hurt the most? Morning, afternoon, night?
- Do certain foods or drinks have an effect?
- Have I recently started or discontinued a medicine?
- Which joints have pain and stiffness?
- How is my nail health? Are they pitting, peeling, or unhealthy in general?
- How is the pain affecting my quality of life?
This might seem like an annoying task, but it's critically important to keep track of the state of your health.
Schedule an appointment with your dermatologist: Before you visit a new doctor, visit your current one. Inform your dermatologist of your symptoms. In some cases a dermatologist can prescribe medicine that works for both psoriasis and arthritis. This could save you the cost of seeing an additional doctor for your arthritis.
Find a rheumatologist:Your dermatologist may be able to refer you to a rheumatologist. Once a visit is set, your new doctor will again assess your symptoms and will take X-rays of your joints. Be aware that in some cases, if joint damage has not reached a certain point, the damage will not show up on an X-ray.** But don’t let this be the end of the conversation.** Inform your doctor that, regardless of what the test results might indicate, your joints are hurting. If you are in pain and are not receiving what you consider adequate or appropriate treatment, find a new doctor.
Alisha Bridges has battled with severe psoriasis for over 20 years and is the face behind Being Me in My Own Skin, a blog which highlights her life with psoriasis. Her goals are to create empathy and compassion for those who are least understood, through transparency of self, patient advocacy, and healthcare. She is currently a post-bach student at Georgia State University pursuing a career as a Physician's Assistance—her passions are dermatology and sexual health. Alisha also shares her passion as a Social Ambassador of the Psoriasis HealthCentral Facebook page where she shares timely tips, stories and insights on living with psoriasis. You can also find Alisha on Twitter.