Understanding Psoriatic Arthritis
April 15, 2014

Understanding Psoriatic Arthritis

Recently, a dear friend of mine experienced months of un-diagnosable pain. He quite honestly could barely move because the pain was so intense in his joints, bones, and even his skin. From his hands to knees, hips to shoulders, his pain left him swollen and hurting. Doctors could not figure it out because, by all the normal tests, he had nothing wrong with him. Until about three months ago, that is. Then, finally, his doctors considered psoriatic arthritis. After performing the diagnostic tests to confirm their suspicions, he was diagnosed. I had not heard of this before and, as a good little researcher, learned what I could about it.

So, just what is psoriatic arthritis? Well, according to the Mayo Clinic, this is a form of arthritis affecting some people who suffer from psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin condition whereby sufferers have red patches on their skin with scales silver in look. Psoriasis is painful, itchy, and uncomfortable. However, for those who develop psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis of the skin is nothing in comparison. Both are chronic diseases that may or may not have periods of remission followed by periods where symptoms worsen.

The Mayo Clinic identifies the primary symptoms of psoriatic arthritis as the following:

  • Swollen fingers and toes. Psoriatic arthritis can cause a painful, sausage-like swelling of your fingers and toes. You may also develop swelling and deformities in your hands and feet before having significant joint symptoms.
  • Foot pain. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause pain at the points where tendons and ligaments attach to your bones — especially at the back of your heel (Achilles tendinitis) or in the sole of your foot (plantar fasciitis).
  • Lower back pain. Some people develop a condition called spondylitis as a result of psoriatic arthritis. Spondylitis mainly causes inflammation of the joints between the vertebrae of your spine and in the joints between your spine and pelvis (sacroiliitis).

The pain can be excruciating and debilitating.

Like many chronic diseases and disorders, psoriatic arthritis strikes when the immune system goes berserk and attacks healthy cells and tissues. Many have genetic history of either psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis, but it still is not entirely clear why the immune system attacks the body it is meant to protect. Like most immune issues, the suspects include physical trauma, something in the environment, and viral infection.

Beyond the severe pain of psoriasis on the joints, psoriatic arthritis can also lead to a pretty severe complication called arthritis mutilans, “a severe, painful and disabling form of the disease. Over time, arthritis mutilans destroys the small bones in your hands, especially the fingers, leading to permanent deformity and disability.” This only happens to a small percentage of those suffering from the disease, but it is still worth knowing.

What can be done about this painful disease? Well, in short, very little. There is no cure, as of right now. So, without a cure, that means that controlling inflammation and triggers is key to living a life with less pain. The Mayo Clinic suggests several options:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (NMARDS)
  • Immunosuppressents
  • TNF-alpha inhibitors
  • Steroid injections
  • Joint replacement surgery

Most of these are expensive and even dangerous.

So, just what can one do beyond medications and surgery? Well, like with any other health-related issue, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are critical to helping control the inflammation and pain. Additionally, protecting the joints, using cold and hot packs, and pacing oneself will also help.

My friend has a long road ahead of him, but with knowledge comes a plan. Understanding chronic illnesses and diseases will better help us to control and possibly even prevent them, someday.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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