Easy Tips for Managing Psoriatic Arthritis & College

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

If you’re starting college this fall, you probably have a long list of pandemic-induced unknowns to think about. Will you go ahead with plans to leave home for a university? Should you take socially distanced online courses instead? And what will it be like to take care of your psoriatic arthritis (PsA) for the first time all by yourself. Scary? It doesn’t have to be. We’ve got tips to help keep your joints and skin happy as you step into this new phase of life, whatever it looks like for you.

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Factor Your Immune System Into Your Plans

OK, this is a biggie. If you’re being treated for a chronic condition, like PsA, a traditional school that focuses solely on in-person instruction may not be the best option right now. “In light of COVID-19, if you are taking immune-suppressant medication, you need to be especially careful transitioning into a college setting,” says Thomas Webb, director of disability services at Wright State University in Dayton, OH. He recommends signing up for a few online classes for the fall, and if needed, work with the college’s disability services office to work on an accommodation plan.

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Schedule Classes Around Your Body

If you and your doctor decide your immune system can handle living at school, consider this: Walking around campus can take a real physical toll on inflamed joints. You have options. “Consider online, hybrid, and/or face-to-face courses offered during times when you may feel your best,” says Joan Seitzer, dean for retention services at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. For in-person classes, try to schedule them for your best time of day, avoiding mornings if it takes you time to get moving, or allowing a break in the afternoons for a siesta.

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Meet With Your Rheumatologist Now

Schedule a visit to your rheumatologist before you head off to school to review your treatment plan and to stock up medications. It’s also a good time to discuss the possibility of meeting virtually with your rheum via video-call appointments or phone in case of a flare-up. If your doctor feels you need to be seen in person before your next visit home, they may be able to recommend a doctor near your school.

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Ask About Campus Support Resources

If you’re headed to college, “Find out early about all of the support that will be available for you such as tutoring services and counseling services” advises Seitzer. Bad PsA flares may translate to a few missed classes, so you’ll need a back-up plan. Seitzer also recommends finding out about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) services that will be available at your school. “Now is a good time to meet with the ADA coordinator and develop a plan in case you will need accommodations.”

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Contact Health Services at Your College

Real talk from a recent college grad with PsA: Getting to know health services ahead of time at your college can be extremely helpful, especially if you need assistance with an injectable medication, says R.J. Baldwin, a recent graduate of the University of Nebraska who lives with PsA. “This approach worked out great for me because once I knew my fall schedule, I was then able to set up a weekly appointment with health services for my injectable that didn’t interfere with my class schedule.”

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Get Your Diet on Track

Eating healthy between classes is tricky, so now is a great time to start practicing, says Eleanor Baker, R.D.N., a nutritionist based in Jacksonville, FL. “Focus on building half your plate with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables to help combat free radical damage that can cause a spike in inflammation,” Baker says.

Go for vitamin-rich dark, leafy greens, blueberries, raspberries, sweet potatoes, and artichokes. Try healthy fats, too, like avocado or olive oil, sunflower seeds, or ground chia and flax seeds. These help you absorb vitamins in the healthy foods you eat.

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Keep a Journal

It doesn’t have to be paper-and-pen. Keep a running list on your phone to track everything from how you feel each day to how much rest you’re getting, what you’re eating, and even exercise. “During the initial transition to college, journaling can help track any potential changes in health and help pinpoint what might be causing the changes,” says Kelley Moore, school counselor at Queen Anne’s High School in Centreville, MD.

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Understand Your Health Insurance

If you will be on your parents’ health plan, now is a great time to ask them to look at the plan with you. Some plans will pay for medical help outside your home region and some will not. You may also find that certain specialists in your college town are covered by your insurance, but you need a referral to see them from your primary care doctor before you can make an appointment. Also, check which lab companies are covered in your new area, especially if you need regular bloodwork for the medication you're on.

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Have Self-Care Methods at the Ready

PsA symptoms can come and go without explanation. Stress and just overdoing it—hello, college life—can trigger painful flares. So be sure to add self-care into your plans. That means embracing downtime, tackling a favorite workout a few times a week, and even taking an occasional night in to recharge. Another hallmark feature of PsA is that treatments often need to be modified to stay effective. If you have a spike in flare-ups, contact your doctor. They may be able to change your treatment plan from a distance and get you back on track.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.