What is psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that attacks both your skin and your joints. About the same number of men and women are diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Usually, the first signs of psoriatic arthritis appear between ages 30 and 50, although the disease can strike at any age.

  • About 1 in 3 people with psoriasis may develop psoriatic arthritis.
  • Joint pain may appear within 10 years after skin symptoms first appear.
  • About 85% of people with psoriatic arthritis develop skin symptoms like red, flaky patches known as plaques before they develop joint symptoms.

How PsA differs from other forms of arthritis

Despite sharing multiple characteristics and symptoms, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis aren’t the same. It’s important to not only understand the many types of arthritis, but also how they differ from each other. Talk to a doctor to learn more about the conditions listed below or if you are experiencing symptoms.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteo-
arthritis

A chronic inflammatory condition attacking the skin and joints

A chronic inflammatory condition attacking the body’s joints

Caused over time by wear and tear

Can affect many different joints in the body; skin plaques may be present due to psoriasis

Often targets many joints at one time on both sides of the body

Usually affects isolated joints (one set of joints)

Joints ache and are tender and swollen

Joints ache and are tender and swollen

Joints ache and may be tender but have little or no swelling

Psoriatic arthritis symptoms

Psoriatic arthritis symptoms may include red, scaly skin patches known as plaques as well as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Psoriatic arthritis symptoms can impact joint movement and ability to perform even the simplest tasks. 

Psoriatic arthritis causes

The inflammation associated with PsA is caused by an abnormal response of your body’s immune system, which may result in both red, flaky skin patches known as plaques, as well as joint pain and swelling. In addition to the immune system, a combination of other factors are believed to influence whether someone is at risk for psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis inflammation and progression

Skin plaques and joint symptoms like joint pain and swelling are signs you might have too much inflammation in your body. This can lead to conditions like psoriatic arthritis—which can lead to irreversible joint damage within the first year of diagnosis.

Psoriatic arthritis tests and diagnosis

If you or a family member have psoriasis or other chronic inflammatory conditions, and you develop symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible. Psoriatic arthritis can damage joints over time if not controlled, so the earlier you receive a diagnosis and effective treatment, the better.

Psoriatic arthritis is diagnosed based largely on your medical history and a physical exam; laboratory tests may be used to rule out other conditions.

Types of psoriatic arthritis

There are five different types of psoriatic arthritis, determined by which parts of the body are affected as well as with the extent and severity of the inflammation.

Psoriatic arthritis treatment

There are many different psoriatic arthritis treatment options your rheumatologist may discuss with you. Treatment options for psoriatic arthritis may include topical medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologic treatments, and medications called oral small molecules. In addition to these medications, your rheumatologist may also discuss non-pharmacologic management options such as lifestyle changes and physical and occupational therapies.

Talk to your rheumatologist to learn more about psoriatic arthritis treatment options.

Quick Poll

Have you been diagnosed with PsA, Ps, or neither? Select one.

Since you selected PsA, you might want to learn more about PsA inflammation and disease progression.

Since you selected Ps, you might want to know that 1 in 3 people diagnosed with Ps may develop PsA. Could you have PsA?

Since you selected "neither," find out if your skin and joint symptoms could be psoriatic arthritis.

Watch This 30-Second Video – Then Take the PsA Symptom Quiz

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Find out if your skin and joint symptoms could have something in common: psoriatic arthritis.

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Sources: 1. Comparing rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Updated December 9, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/special/comparing-rheumatoid-arthritis-and-osteoarthritis/aa19377.html#:~:text=The%20main%20difference%20between%20osteoarthritis,system%20attacks%20the%20body's%20joints. Accessed August 10, 2020. 2. Difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. University of Michigan Health. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.uofmhealth.org/conditions-treatments/cmc/difference-between-osteoarthritis-and-rheumatoid-arthritis. Accessed August 10, 2020. 3. Gottlieb A, Korman NJ, Gordon KB, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis: section 2. Psoriatic arthritis: overview and guidelines of care for treatment with an emphasis on the biologics. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;58(5)851-864. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2008.02.040. 4. Gottlieb A, Merola JF. Psoriatic arthritis for dermatologists. J Dermatolog Treat. 2019;1-18. doi: 10.1080/09546634.2019.1605142. 5. Hammadi AA. Psoriatic arthritis. Medscape. Updated July 15, 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2196539-overview. 6. Occupational therapy for arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/physical-therapies/occupational-therapy-for-arthritis. 7. Psoriatic arthritis. American College of Rheumatology. Updated March 2019. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Psoriatic-Arthritis. 8. Psoriatic arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/psoriatic-arthritis.

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