What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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If you or a loved one suffer from psoriatic arthritis, you may have many questions about the condition. Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition characterized by painful, scaly, red or white skin patches that break out over the body.

Here is an overview of psoriatic arthritis, including signs and symptoms, risk factors, causes, and treatment options.

What is psoriatic arthritis?

Most people associate the word psoriasis with an autoimmune condition that causes scaly, silvery skin and crumbling nails. About 10-20% of people who have the disease also develop psoriatic arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sometimes, you may develop psoriatic arthritis without having psoriasis, especially if you have a family history of the autoimmune disease.

Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory form of arthritis that attacks both the skin and joints and has many of the same symptoms as psoriasis. The condition can occur in any part of the body and is characterized by periods of active inflammation followed by periods of remission. You are most likely to get a psoriatic arthritis diagnosis between the ages of 30 and 55; however, the condition may also develop in children. Both genders are at equal risk for getting psoriatic arthritis.

What are psoriatic arthritis symptoms?

Psoriatic arthritis symptoms vary and usually include both symptoms that affect the skin and musculoskeletal system (that is, the joints).

Some symptoms overlap with those of other conditions (including other types of arthritis), so it’s important to see a doctor to confirm a psoriatic arthritis diagnosis. A dermatologist may be able to rule out other skin conditions, such as eczema, while a rheumatologist (arthritis doctor) can help confirm whether you have psoriatic arthritis or another kind of arthritis.

Most people will have some of the following psoriatic arthritis symptoms:

  • Swollen, painful joints, especially in the knees, ankles, fingers, toes, and lower back
  • Scaly, red or white patches on the skin
  • Pitted nails or nails separating from the nail bed
  • Sausage-shaped fingers and toes due to swelling
  • Tendon pain, especially in the heel or bottom of the foot
  • Inflammation in the spine, which creates pain and discomfort in the lower back and neck
  • Fatigue
  • Eye problems including inflammation and conjunctivitis (pink eye)

What causes psoriatic arthritis?

The cause of psoriatic arthritis is isn’t fully understood, but researchers believe there are both genetic and environmental components. Not everyone with psoriasis goes on to develop psoriatic arthritis, but research suggests that people with psoriasis who experience extreme stress or injury trigger an autoimmune response that causes psoriatic arthritis.

A significant risk factor for developing psoriatic arthritis is having psoriasis. You are also more likely to develop psoriatic arthritis if a family member also has the condition, or has either psoriasis or arthritis.

How do doctors make a psoriatic arthritis diagnosis?

If your doctor suspects you have psoriatic arthritis, she’ll usually begin your medical examination by taking a complete family history, since the disease often runs in families. Your doctor may also ask about your medical history, including the location and duration of your pain and whether you have other symptoms that affect your daily life.

Your doctor will also perform a physical examination of your skin, bones, and joints. Your doctor may also request X-rays and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm a psoriatic arthritis diagnosis. Psoriatic arthritis can’t be diagnosed with a blood test, although your doctor may use lab tests to rule out other conditions.

If you suspect you may have psoriatic arthritis, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. An early psoriatic arthritis diagnosis, followed by treatment, may prevent irreversible damage to your joints.

Does Medicare cover treatment for psoriatic arthritis?

Treatment for the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis almost always involves prescription drug therapy. Some medications are taken daily by mouth, while others are given by injection or infusion in a hospital or doctor’s office. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed to help with symptoms like joint swelling and pain; for severe pain, your doctor may prescribe steroid injections. In some cases, depending on the severity of your psoriatic arthritis, you may need surgery to treat joint damage or replace joints.

If you have Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), Part A covers inpatient hospital and skilled nursing facility services, including surgery and any medications you need as part of an inpatient stay. Medicare Part B covers outpatient care, including doctor visits, diagnostic tests, X-rays, and limited medications administered by a health-care professional in an outpatient setting (usually the type of medications that you can’t give yourself). You’re responsible for any required deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance amounts, which vary depending on the type of service.

There is limited coverage for most prescription drugs under Original Medicare, but you may be able to enroll in stand-alone Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage that works alongside your Original Medicare benefits. These benefits are available through Medicare Prescription Drug Plans, which are offered by Medicare-approved private insurance companies.

As another option, you may also be able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that includes Part D coverage for prescription drugs; these plans are known as Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans and are also available through Medicare-approved private insurance companies. Medicare Advantage plans are another way to get your Original Medicare benefits (except for hospice, which is still covered under Part A); some plans may also cover additional benefits, including routine vision or dental, wellness programs, and prescription drugs. One benefit of enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan that covers prescription drugs is that you get your Part A, Part B, and Part D coverage under a single plan.

Whether you decide to get your prescription drug benefits through a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug Plan or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan, be sure to check the plan’s formulary, or list of covered medications, if you take any psoriatic arthritis medications on a regular basis. Keep in mind that formularies may change at any time, but the Medicare plan will notify you if needed.

Do you need assistance understanding your Medicare benefits for treatment of psoriatic arthritis? I’m available to answer your questions. You can also request information via email or schedule a telephone call at your convenience by clicking one of the links below. To see a list of plan options in your area, click the Compare Plans button. To find out more about me, click the “View profile” button below.

For more information on psoriatic arthritis:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What is psoriasis?” Last updated February 9, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/psoriasis/

National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “Psoriatic Arthritis Overview.” Last updated October 2014. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/psoriatic_arthritis/default.asp

U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. “Psoriatic Arthritis.” Last updated July 13, 2016. https://medlineplus.gov/psoriaticarthritis.html

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