10 Ways Psoriatic Arthritis Can Affect Your Body

Health Writer
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Psoriatic arthritis flares come and go (often unannounced), and with them come symptoms that may be different than you imagined. Sometimes the side effects even mimic other conditions like fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. Keep reading to find out 12 ways your psoriatic arthritis might manifest on your body and how to minimize some of the effects.


Swollen Fingers and Toes

Psoriatic arthritis affects all the areas of your body, including your fingers and toes. Swelling often happens during a flare-up, making the joints and entheses of the surrounding tendons get inflamed and resemble sausages. Swelling that migrates from joint to joint—from your finger to your toe, then to your knee, for example—helps differentiate psoriatic arthritis from rheumatoid arthritis, in which swelling is usually in a single joint.There are tricks to getting through these swollen digits in between rheumatologist appointments. Try wrapping an ice pack in a towel and icing the swollen joints for 20 minutes each. Taking pressure off your finger joints with less typing or off your toes joints by wearing wider shoes is also simple, but very helpful.


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Decreased Lung Function

Like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis produces widespread inflammation throughout the body and can cause harm to the lungs. While this will not happen to everyone with the disease, a report in the British Journal of Dermatology showed that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was more likely to occur in patients with psoriasis (which many people with psoriatic arthritis have) compared to patients without. During a psoriatic arthritis flare, it may feel harder than normal to complete your bike ride or even climb the stairs. Even though this symptom might not seem related to your psoriatic arthritis, it is important to let you your doctor know what you are feeling.


Reduced Range of Motion

The stiffness, pain, and swelling associated with psoriatic arthritis can feel like a pulled muscle, drastically reducing your range of motion. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, physical activity and moderate exercise may improve your mobility and range of motion. Aleksandra Radjen, a physical therapist at Cleveland Clinic agrees. “During a flare-up it is important to continue to move with arthritis-friendly exercises. Workouts in water, [gentle] aerobics, and light weight lifting can help ease pain during a flare-up.” If you find the pain is too much to exercise, a physical therapist can help you initiate pain free movement.


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Foot Pain

The foot pain that you have been feeling may not be your imagination. People with psoriatic arthritis often develop tenderness or pain where tendons and ligaments attach to bones. This commonly occurs at the heel (Achilles tendinitis) or at the bottom of the foot (plantar fasciitis). Foot pain can quickly become debilitating, especially if you’re the get-up-and-go type. Reach out to a foot specialist as soon as possible, but in the meantime, there are several things you can do. Wear supportive shoes and put the brakes on going barefoot. Before bed, gently stretch and massage your foot by rolling it over a tennis ball for 10 minutes to relieve some of the pain.


Lower Back Pain

Back pain in people with psoriatic arthritis can vary, but according to the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, it has been reported to be as high as 78%. Early intervention for back pain is key to helping stave off long-term joint damage. If your work involves long hours at a computer or driving, be sure to take frequent stretch breaks to loosen the muscles around your neck and back. Your doctor will be able to recommend a physical therapist if you need help with starting a stretching routine.


Eye Problems

Psoriatic arthritis can affect the eyes causing inflammation that can range from mild (conjunctivitis) to severe (uveitis), says David Reed, O.D., an adjunct faculty member of the Pennsylvania, New England and Southern Colleges of Optometry. “This inflammation, if left untreated, can damage eye tissues resulting in vision loss.” Get your eyes checked regularly, adds Dr. Reed. An eye exam looks for signs of inflammation and other complications related to the body’s inflammation, as well as complications involving the eyes as a result of psoriatic arthritis therapy.


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Cardiovascular Disease

People with psoriatic arthritis are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared with people who do not have psoriatic arthritis according to a study published in Arthritis Care and Research. Looking at studies involving 33,000 people, those with psoriatic arthritis were 43 percent more likely to have or to develop heart disease compared to the general population. The theory is that the systemic inflammation that drives your psoriatic disease can also be the reason for heart disease. On the bright side, treating your psoriatic arthritis with medication can reduce your chances for cardiovascular disease.


Overall Fatigue

More fatigue than usual could signify increased inflammatory disease activity, also known as a flare. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, proteins called cytokines that are released during inflammatory reactions lead to the fatigue. The zap in energy could also be related to medications that are sometimes prescribed for psoriatic arthritis, or it could be an indication that you just need to slow down and rest (because, don’t we all!). But if the fatigue is frequent, it’s worth letting your rheumatologist know.


Nail Changes

Nails looking a little wonky lately? With psoriatic arthritis, there can be sudden finger and toe nail changes. For example, the nail can separate from the nail bed or become pitted with fungus infections, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. If your nails are showing your psoriatic arthritis, try going au naturel for a while. Skip the polish, acrylic, and gel nails, and use a natural nail hardener free of formaldehyde instead.


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Depression

For the most part, symptoms of psoriatic arthritis are quite visible, but there are some that can also be hidden. Because psoriatic arthritis can create chronic pain and prevent you from doing the things you enjoy, it makes sense that it can cause depression. The inflammation associated with the disease can also impact your emotions. According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 20 percent of those people with psoriatic arthritis have depression. If you suspect you are not as happy as you should be, bring it up to your doctor. He or she will understand that depression is a common symptom of arthritis and should be able to develop a plan to help you.