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Psoriatic arthritis

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that affects your joints.
  • It often affects people with a skin disease called psoriasis.
  • The exact cause of psoriatic arthritis isn't known.
  • Treatments can help ease your symptoms and help prevent long-term joint damage.
  • There is no cure for psoriatic arthritis.

What is psoriatic arthritis?

Like other types of arthritis, psoriatic arthritis causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in your joints.

Usually only people with psoriasis get psoriatic arthritis. Psoriasis is an ongoing condition that causes red, scaly patches on your skin.

About 1 in 4 people who have psoriasis get psoriatic arthritis. Some people may get arthritis before they get skin symptoms.

What are the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis?

If you have psoriatic arthritis, you might have:

  • pain, swelling and stiffness in one or more of your joints
  • pain and stiffness in your lower back or neck
  • pain in your tendons, such as in your feet
  • changes to your nails, such as thickening, pitting or a change in colour
  • pain or redness in your eyes

Many people find that their symptoms come and go. Sometimes your symptoms may:

  • get worse — this is called a 'flare up'
  • go away for a while — this is called 'remission'

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Psoriatic arthritis can affect people in different ways. In some people, it can come on slowly and cause mild symptoms. While in other people it may come on quickly and be more severe.

What causes psoriatic arthritis?

The exact cause of psoriatic arthritis isn't known.

Many factors are thought to play a role in getting psoriatic arthritis, such as:

  • your genes
  • your immune system
  • environmental factors — like getting an infection

People with psoriatic arthritis have been shown to have an altered gut microbiome. This may be linked to changes in your immune system.

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if you have pain stiffness or swelling in one or more of your joints.

How is psoriatic arthritis diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and will examine you. They will look at your skin for signs of psoriasis and examine your painful or stiff joints.

There isn't a specific test for psoriatic arthritis. However, your doctor may order some blood tests to look for inflammation.

If your doctor thinks you have psoriatic arthritis, they'll refer you to a rheumatologist (a doctor who specialises in arthritis).

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also refer you to a dermatologist (skin specialist) or an ophthalmologist (eye specialist).

How is psoriatic arthritis treated?

Psoriatic arthritis treatment aims to control your symptoms, improve your quality of life and stop damage to your joints.

Some people's symptoms are so mild that they don't need medicine.

Self-care at home

You can do things to help yourself if you have psoriatic arthritis. These include:

Medicines for psoriatic arthritis

Medicines for psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, to help manage pain and swelling.
  • Corticosteroid injections may be recommended if large joints are affected.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) — such as methotrexate or sulfasalazine.
  • Biological agents — such as TNF-alpha inhibitors and interleukin inhibitors.

You may need to try a few different treatments. This lets your doctor find out what works best for you. Your treatment may also need to change over time.

Other treatment options

Other types of treatment may be helpful, such as:

Complications of psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis may affect your ability to exercise and work. Because of the impact psoriatic arthritis can have on quality of life, it can lead to depression.

Other complications of psoriatic arthritis are:

Treatment with biological drugs increases your chances of getting infections.

Resources and support

To learn more, see Arthritis Australia's booklet 'Taking control of your Psoriatic Arthritis'.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is ready to speak with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2024

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