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Waiting for a psoriatic arthritis diagnosis can feel a bit like the opening scene of “Jaws.” One minute, you’re splashing around in crystal clear waters — the next, a big-a** shark is threatening to strike.
And while the term “psoriatic arthritis” (PsA) can induce the same level of dread as those two deep notes that signaled the shark was near, we’re here to remind you that you don’t need to let fear of a PsA diagnosis interfere with your life.
Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that PsA can be prevented — but there are plenty of things you can do to promote good joint health and manage psoriasis symptoms.
OK, so there’s no reliable way to prevent PsA. Here’s what you can do right now to support happy joints.
The malfunction responsible for psoriatic arthritis (and psoriasis) causes your immune system to attack your body’s cells — in this case, your skin and joints.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop PsA. It’s most likely to develop when you’re in your 30s, 40s, or 50s. For most people, PsA occurs about 10 years after they first develop psoriasis.
If you have family members with PsA, that can increase your chances of developing it.
As with any type of arthritis or joint pain, though, you can take steps to keep your joints in good shape. Here are four science-backed suggestions:
1. We can’t say it enough: Get your omega-3s
Research links omega-3 consumption with anti-inflammatory benefits, especially for your joints. There’s some debate about whether supplements or whole food sources of omega-3s are best.
Most studies use higher levels of omega-3s than are found in single servings of fish or other foods rich in omega-3s, but some suggest the body can better absorb omega-3s from food than from capsules.
Our take? Eat a diet with a healthy mix of omega-3-rich foods — salmon, tuna, avocado, flax and chia seeds, olive oil — and on the days you’re not in the mood to cook, pop a supplement.
2. Try to maintain a moderate weight
Maintaining a moderate weight is one of the key ways to protect and care for your joints.
If your doctor says you could benefit from losing weight, chat with them or a registered dietitian to come up with a plan. A dietitian can help you make a PsA-friendly meal plan full of tasty foods.
3. Move your body
Exercise not only helps your joints maintain mobility (i.e., a body in motion stays in motion) but also can build up the surrounding muscles to stabilize and protect them from future deterioration.
Some of the most recommended exercises for joint health are:
- weight training
- low impact exercise, like walking, biking, and swimming
- aerobics and cardio (but be mindful of activities like running and jumping rope on hard surfaces as you age)
- stretching exercises like yoga and Pilates
4. Try not to get hurt
While it might be obvious that your days of re-creating “Jackass” stunts should be in the past, avoiding injury can be easier said than done. However, just as avoiding sun damage is linked to skin health, avoiding joint damage can stave off arthritis.
For starters, be mindful when you exercise. Maybe take it down a notch at your league’s next basketball game (no need to shoulder your opponents at every opportunity — this isn’t the NBA).
If your joints are consistently suffering after a run, consider getting comfier shoes, shortening the distance, or switching to a treadmill or cushioned track. You can also opt for low impact exercises like swimming and biking.
Lastly, be careful when it comes to repeated motion or lifting heavy things. Have a job that requires you to consistently kneel and stand? Get yo’self some knee pads! All in all, just take care.
Interestingly (or annoyingly, depending on who you ask), PsA symptoms can vary from person to person and over time.
Spontaneous remission is common with PsA, so if you develop the condition, you’ll see fluctuations in its severity.
The following symptoms are the general diagnosis criteria for psoriatic arthritis:
- scaly skin patches and flaking scalp (aka your usual psoriasis symptoms), which could increase during PsA flare-ups
- swollen, tender joints on one side or both sides of your body
- “stiff bones” in the morning (a general stiffness all over when you wake up)
- swollen fingers and toes
- muscle and tendon pain
- nail pitting (little depressions, holes, or discolorations in your fingernails and toenails)
- nails separating from your nail beds
- red and painful eyes
Want to compare with other folks? Check out the psoriatic arthritis pictures below and see if they match what you’re dealing with.
There’s no quick fix for psoriatic arthritis, and unfortunately there’s no known cure. Medical pros are working on it, but right now it’s still unclear what even causes the condition.
The good news: There are lots of treatment options to keep PsA symptoms in check, including prescriptions and at-home remedies. Any of these options can make managing the condition much easier.
Your doctor will create a specific treatment plan based on your goals and the severity of your symptoms. They’ll probably prescribe one of these pharmaceutical solutions to help you.
These are often recommended as a first-line treatment. They can be taken as an injection or infusion, and they work by stopping chemicals that contribute to the condition.
The side effects? They dampen your immune response, which can increase your risk of other infections.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
You’re probably familiar with NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Your doctor might prescribe more hard-core NSAIDs (*cue heavy metal music*) if your symptoms don’t respond to the over-the-counter options.
Friendly reminder that when misused, these drugs can cause serious side effects like stomach bleeding, liver and kidney damage, and even a heart attack or stroke.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
DMARDs decrease inflammation to prevent joint damage, slowing down PsA. You can take them by various means, including orally or by injection or infusion.
This category includes one of the latest drugs for psoriatic arthritis: Apremilast. It’s taken orally and works by blocking an inflammation enzyme.
The side effects of DMARDs can be extreme. They include liver damage, bone marrow suppression, and lung infection. If you’re nervous about these effects (we don’t blame ya), talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to help you navigate your treatment plan.
These are injected directly into affected joints. Side effects are usually minor, with some pain and risk of joint infection.
Remember, these options aren’t meant to be solo treatments. They work together with the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor, so be sure to keep your doc in the loop before trying anything at home.
You can add turmeric as a delicious spice to food or take it as a capsule. It has an ingredient called curcumin, which has been shown to be effective in treating psoriasis symptoms.
Epsom salt baths
Epsom baths may help reduce joint pain and inflammation, although the jury is still out on whether it’s due to the salts themselves or the to warm water.
What we do know: Epsom salts contain magnesium, which soothes itchy skin, a symptom often associated with PsA. However, this is not a good solution if you have diabetes, since the salts can stimulate the release of insulin.
More omega-3s, please
Bottom line: Fish oil and omega-3s are linked to reduced inflammation. You can take omega-3 supplements or make yourself a tasty tuna sandwich.
Massages can help your aching joints and release tight muscles. It’s helpful to seek out a massage therapist with specific knowledge of PsA.
Acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to relieve pressure and chronic pain associated with PsA. It can be expensive and may be a trigger for your skin symptoms, so start slow and monitor your symptoms.
All these great treatments help when symptoms flare up, but what if you want to try to avoid inflammation and joint pain in the first place (a #relatable desire)?
Try these tips and you might see an improvement in your overall health and a decrease in flare-ups or the severity of symptoms.
Maintain a moderate weight
Like we mentioned before, the weight and joint health connection is real. If your doctor advises you to lose weight, chat with a registered dietitian to put together a PsA-friendly meal plan. A reduction in weight can ease symptoms for some people.
We know quitting can be seriously tough, but it can have huge benefits for your health. Even the occasional ciggy increases inflammation. You’re practically begging your symptoms to flare when you smoke, so please, put down the cigarettes.
On that note, add healthy stress-reduction techniques to your day. Examples include soothing music, essential oils, meditation, yoga, and blocking your ex.
*Cue Samuel L. Jackson* Go the f*ck to sleep
Sleep. Your body needs it much more than it needs another hour scrolling online. Make bedtime a sacred daily ritual and stick to it.
While regular doc appointments are a good idea in general, you should schedule one as soon as you notice PsA symptoms. Even a 6-month delay in diagnosis can result in joint damage that could have been prevented. Don’t hesitate — make the call!
The earliest symptoms you’ll likely experience are swelling, stiffness, eye inflammation, changes in your nail beds, and fatigue. Point these out to your doctor. They can’t help until you say something!
Not noticing symptoms but have psoriasis or a family member with PsA? Mention that too. The more your healthcare provider knows about your health and health history, the better they can look out for PsA symptoms.
While doctor’s appointments can feel scary, always remember that their job is to help. Together, you can figure out the best treatment plan for your needs.