4 Facts About the Link Between Psoriasis and Arthritis

They seem like two separate things—so what's the connection between skin woes and achy joints?

A man with psoriatic disease rubs his wrist. He has psoriasis and joint pain and wonders: Can psoriasis cause arthritis?

Medically reviewed in November 2021

Psoriasis is a common skin condition that affects 7.5 million Americans. It occurs when a person’s immune system goes on the fritz and sends signals that tell skin cells to grow too fast. The new cells form in days instead of weeks. This causes them to pile up and creates patches of psoriasis. 

Anyone can develop psoriasis, but there is often a hereditary component. It occurs most often between the ages of 15 and 30 and between the ages of 50 and 60. Psoriasis is often precipitated by certain triggers. These include: 

  • Infection, such as strep throat 
  • A stressful event 
  • Medications such as lithium 
  • Medications that help prevent malaria 
  • Indomethacin, a strong nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug 
  • Cold and dry weather 
  • A cut, scratch or bad sunburn 

We often hear about the “heartbreak of psoriasis” because it is an embarrassing skin condition for many who have it. The majority of people have plaque psoriasis, but there are many different types. With plaque psoriasis, raised red plaques with silvery white patches appear on the skin. Those with this type of psoriasis often develop pitting of their fingernails. 

What's the link between psoriasis and arthritis? 
Thirty percent of patients with psoriasis will develop a type of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis. As with psoriasis, there are different types of psoriatic arthritis, which can range from mild to moderate to severe and affect many different joints in the body. 

Four facts about psoriatic arthritis: 

  1. In 15 percent of patients, the joint problems may show up before the skin symptoms. 
  2. Diagnosing psoriatic arthritis can be challenging. It may occur in a joint after an injury and look more like a cartilage tear. 
  3. There may be pain without swelling. 
  4. Often patients will develop swollen fingers, which are sometimes described as "sausage-like.” 

Common treatments 
Treating psoriasis can help reduce the inflammation that sets people up for psoriatic arthritis and other health problems associated with psoriatic disease—such as heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes—and alter these risks. 

For the skin, there is light therapy, ointments that contain steroids and/or vitamins A and D. For psoriatic arthritis, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are used initially. For severe cases, drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are often needed and can work very well. 

There is no cure for psoriasis, but with combination therapies it can be controlled. More importantly, the risks for other conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, can be reduced by seeking medical help and getting treatment as early as possible.

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