Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis some people with the psoriasis skin condition develop. It typically causes affected joints to become inflamed (swollen), stiff and painful. See your GP if you experience persistent pain, swelling or stiffness in your joints – even if you haven't been diagnosed with psoriasis.

About psoriatic arthritis

Like psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis is a long-term condition that can get progressively worse.

In severe cases, there's a risk of the joints becoming permanently damaged or deformed, which may require surgical treatment.

With an early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, it's possible to slow down the progression of the condition and minimise or prevent permanent damage to the joints.

Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis

The pain, swelling and stiffness associated with psoriatic arthritis can affect any joint in the body. But the condition often affects the hands, feet, knees, neck, spine and elbows.

The severity of the condition can vary considerably from person to person. Some people may have severe problems affecting many joints. Others with the condition may only notice mild symptoms in one or two joints.

There may be times when your symptoms improve (known as remission). There may be periods when your symptoms get worse (known as flare-ups or relapses).

Relapses can be very difficult to predict. But they can often be managed with medication when they do occur.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you experience persistent pain, swelling or stiffness in your joints – even if you haven't been diagnosed with psoriasis.

If you've been diagnosed with psoriasis, you should have check-ups at least once a year to monitor your condition.

Make sure you let your doctor know if you're experiencing any problems with your joints.

If your doctor thinks you may have arthritis, they should refer you to a rheumatologist (a specialist in joint conditions) for an assessment.

A rheumatologist will usually be able to diagnose psoriatic arthritis if you have psoriasis and problems with your joints.

They'll also try to rule out other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

A number of tests may be carried out to help confirm a diagnosis, including:

  • blood tests to check for signs of inflammation in your body and the presence of certain antibodies found in other types of arthritis
  • X-rays or scans of your joints

Causes of psoriatic arthritis

About three in every ten people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis.

It usually develops within 5 to 10 years of psoriasis being diagnosed. Although some people may experience problems with their joints before they notice any symptoms affecting their skin.

Like psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis is thought to occur as a result of the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue.

It's not clear why some people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis and others don't.

Treating psoriatic arthritis

The main aims of treatment will be to relieve your symptoms, slow the progression of the condition and improve your quality of life.

For most people, this involves trying a number of different medications, some of which can also treat the psoriasis. Ideally, you should take one medication to treat both your psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis whenever possible.

The main medications used to treat psoriatic arthritis include:

  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • corticosteroids
  • disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • biological therapies

The health professional looking after your care will discuss the most appropriate treatment options with you.

Complementary therapies

There's not enough scientific evidence to say that complementary therapies, such as balneotherapy (bathing in water containing minerals), works in treating psoriatic arthritis.

There's also not enough evidence to support taking any kind of food supplement as treatment.

Complementary therapies can sometimes react with other treatments, so talk to your GP, specialist or pharmacist if you're thinking of using any.

Managing related conditions

As with psoriasis and other types of inflammatory arthritis, you may be more likely to get some other conditions – such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) – if you have psoriatic arthritis. CVD is the term for conditions of the heart or blood vessels, such as heart disease and stroke.

You should talk to your GP to see if it would be worthwhile to carry out tests (such as blood pressure and cholesterol tests) so they can check whether you are at risk of CVD and offer additional treatment, if necessary.

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The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published August 2018

This page is due for review March 2020

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