In partnership with AbbVie Corporation • Her painfully swollen ring finger was the first indiction something was wrong. "I was engaged and we were going to have our rings sized," says Steff Ivory Conover, 30. "But within a week, for no apparent reason, my finger was two ring sizes larger than normal." And it took more than a year of chasing doctors and connecting the right dots to confirm a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
A chronic inflammatory disease, psoriatic arthritis (sorry-attic arth-rye-tiss) tends to affect men and women between the ages of 30 and 50, and has a double-whammy profile. It usually announces itself first on the skin, as red, itchy and scaly patches, and some time later manifests as stiff, sore and swollen joints as well.
Of course, as always, there are exceptions; Conover is one of them. Her skin was and still is smooth and healthy – and probably the reason she had to chase doctors for the right answers. (She's a case study in taking an active role in your health management in order to get the diagnosis and then the treatment you need.)
"I knew that once I had the diagnosis, whatever it was, at least I could then do the research to find a solution. Any problem is lessened once you're able to see it from all sides." – Steff Ivory Conover
Persistance eventually got Conover, then 27, a referral to a Toronto orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in arthritis and rheumatic disease. One more x-ray and a review of an MRI she'd had earlier revealed joint shearing (essentially erosion of a joint's rotator cuff) in her hand; after that, the puzzle started to fit together.
Conover's medical past includes chronic sacroiliitis (inflamation of the joint that connects the lower spine and pelvic bone) and a years-long case of painful plantar faciitis. The added joint-shearing revelation pointed Conover's doctor in the right direction. "He asked if there was a history of psoriasis in my family," says Conover. "I told him my mom has it – flakes and weepy patches on the scalp, sometimes on her elbows and so on." With that last bit of information, her doc had her tested for psoriatic arthritis (PSA), and soon confirmed the diagnosis. "I had no idea all these conditions were linked," says Conover.
do you have PsA? here's how to find out:
- Hire the best health ambassador you can find. Hint: it's you.
- Listen to your body, and pay attention to symptoms – they're giving you important clues. For instance, itchy red patches of psoriasis on the skin could hint at joint inflammation to come, as is unfortunately the case with many PsA patients. Or, as it was with Conover, seemingly unrelated afflictions could add up to a single condition.
- Create an open dialogue with your health professionals; you'll be working together.
- Take a short quiz at PsoriaticArthritisInfo.ca and discuss your results with your health practitioner.
- Research your options to decide what works best for your lifestyle.
"The biggest quest for me was getting the doctors to take me seriously, and to work deeper," says Conover. "I knew that once I had the diagnosis, whatever it was, at least I could then do the research to find a solution. Any problem is lessened once you're able to see it from all sides. My medical history seemed so random until we realized that what we thought were separate conditions were actually linked."
Now that she knows she has PsA, Conover has appropriate medication to help manage her symptoms, and continues to take an active role herself via a diet rich in lean proteins, beans and greens. One cheat day per week helps her stay the course without feeling deprived, and helps her minimize PsA-related flare-ups.
"It's been two years since my diagnosis, and I'm almost 100%. I can function like a normal, active 30-year-old," she says. "Yes, psoriatic arthritis is a life condition, but it's not a life sentence."
Image via Pinterest. If anyone knows the source of the opening photograph, please let me know who to contact and credit!