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Presentation and Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis

Medically Reviewed On: December 12, 2010

If you have psoriasis, you may eventually develop psoriatic arthritis (PsA), a chronic disease that affects approximately 30 percent of psoriasis sufferers. Although doctors are not sure why this condition occurs, they do know that it affects about one million Americans, and that it stems from a malfunction in the immune system that causes painful swelling in the joints, hands, feet and connective tissues. It can also lead to inflammation in body tissues, such as tendons and cartilage, eyes, heart, lungs and kidneys.

Psoriatic arthritis is not a condition to be ignored. Left untreated, it can progress to the point where debilitating joint damage severely diminishes quality of life. Inflammation can also cause pain in the eyes and in the chest wall, making breathing difficult. If the inflammation reaches the heart, it can eventually lead to heart failure.

Although there is no cure for psoriatic arthritis, it can be treated. After recognizing the initial symptoms and immediately starting effective treatment, people with psoriatic arthritis can learn to relieve the pain and control the damaging inflammation.

Unfortunately, many people with psoriatic arthritis do not know they have it. A survey conducted by the National Psoriasis Foundation found that up to one-third of people with psoriasis said they had suffered from persistent joint stiffness for at least 3 months, but had yet to be diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis may go undiagnosed because it can be hard to identify. The disease varies widely in its initial symptoms and its differing degrees of severity. The symptoms of psoriatic arthritis may develop slowly or appear quickly and relentlessly.

In up to 20 percent of cases, the signs and symptoms of psoriatic arthritis present before the skin lesions common in psoriasis. Other times, the psoriatic arthritis symptoms and psoriasis symptoms arrive simultaneously. In the majority of cases, however, psoriatic arthritis appears after psoriasis has begun to flare. Sometimes patients do not experience the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis until 10 years after the first symptoms of psoriasis.

Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis
The joints most often affected by psoriatic arthritis are those of the knee, ankle and feet. Usually, only a few joints are swollen at a time. Like the symptoms of psoriasis, the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis can flare and then subside. Sometimes the same joints are inflamed on both sides of the body; sometimes only one side of the body is affected. In either case, the affected joints become painful, swollen and warm. These symptoms are also typical of rheumatoid arthritis and provide another explanation of how psoriatic arthritis can be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.

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