SPONSORED • Oh lovelies, the more I learn about psoriatic arthritis (sorry-attic arth-rye-tis), the more my heart breaks for everyone who suffers from the disease. As many as 30% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and it's associated with anxiety, depression, heart disease and lowered life expectancy. Early detection is hugely important, but most people are completely unaware of the link between psoriasis and arthritis. If you're reading this, please help spread the word. Please share this post via Twitter, on Facebook or however you can.
psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis
Simmie Smith tried cortisone cream, body oils, a visit to the Dead Sea, and switching to a strictly vegan diet for two years in attempts to alleviate the severe psoriasis that covered 90% of her skin, including her scalp. But nothing really helped her.
When Simmie received her first diagnosis in 1979 at age nine, her family doctor described her nearly whole-body affliction only as "a skin condition," an "extreme form of eczema," and gave her a topical prescription.
When she was in high school, Simmie asked her doctor for a referral to a dermatologist because her painfully inflammed, itchy, scaly skin wasn't improving. (Her scalp was so bad that it bled.) The derm told her she had psoriasis, prescribed a topical treatment... and that's all.
"We didn't have the Internet back then; when I finally heard the word 'psoriasis,' I went to the library to research it," says Simmie, now 46 and president of the Canadian Psoriasis Network. "But there was no information available, so I looked up how to treat a skin condition – like extreme eczema."
In 1990, when she was 20 and working on her Bachelor of Arts degree, Simmie was writing an exam when her right wrist swelled up dramatically. "My professor noticed and knew that something was wrong. The pen kept falling out of my hand," she recalls. "And that morning, my feet were too swollen for shoes; I wore flip flops instead."
Emergency-room staff sent Simmie back to her family doctor, who injected her swollen wrist with cortisone and referred her to a rheumatologist. In the months between the referral and her appointment, other joints started to swell, one at a time: her left knee, then her right, one hip, then the other, and so on down to her toes. "It was very symmetrical for me," she says. Her GP administered more cortisone injections into the sites of the swelling. "You can't imagine how agonizing it is to have injections in the joints of your toes."
Simmie was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis by the rheumatologist. "I was there about my joint pain and swelling – and he couldn't not notice the psoriasis; it was almost everywhere. The only place I didn't have it was my face. He knew right away I had PsA."
That appointment changed everything because finally Simmie got information she desperately needed: Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease. And up to 30% of people who suffer from psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis (PsA), a chronic inflammatory disease that hits with a double-whammy of angry red, itchy, scaly patches of skin, and stiff, painful, swollen joints.
finding psoriatic arthritis info
Fast-forward 26 years and all the information Simmie lacked is now available via Google button. A site called BreakTheDoubleWhammy.ca offers a 30-second psoriatic arthritis quiz that serves as a basis for focussed discussion with your primary health professional. Key points include the following:
- a family history of psoriasis or arthritis increases your risk of developing PsA
- PsA affects men and women generally between the ages of 20 and 50
- nails can exhibit signs of psoriasis too, such as pitting, or lifting from the nail bed
- symptoms include heel pain, very swollen finger or toe joints, and/or unusual heat and stiffness in your joints
Getting a proper diagnosis can take up to two years for PsA sufferers if psoriasis symptoms aren't already showing. That's less time than the decade it took for Simmie, but according to a site called PsoriasisBusters.ca, the earlier the diagnosis, the better in order to avoid permanent joint damage and deformity.
psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis myths
As the name suggests, PsoriasisBusters.ca offers a wealth of information from medical professionals and experts with a focus on dispelling myths about psoriasis and PsA. For instance:
Yes, someone with psoriasis can go to the swimming pool. The disease is not contagious and in most cases, the activity can even prove beneficial. However, patients with visible lesions should be aware that public knowledge and awareness about psoriasis are extremely limited: the experience could be psychologically difficult for someone who is unprepared to deal with certain reactions.
Yes, it is true that there is no test to determine if someone has psoriatic arthritis. However, it is a very real disease and specialists (rheumatologists and dermatologists) can still find evidence that someone is suffering from it or not. If you already have psoriasis, remember that you are more likely than the rest of the population to be affected by psoriatic arthritis. (See answer to Are people with psoriasis more likely to develop psoriatic arthritis?) It is important to find a treatment because psoriatic arthritis can seriously affect the quality of life.
be your own best health advocate
"If you think a doctor will look and immediately diagnose, you'll be disappointed," says Simmie. "You really have to be your own advocate so you can ask the right questions and seek the right referrals. Even dermatologists might not connect psoriasis to arthritis for a PsA diagnosis unless you share the right information."
At present, most of Simmie Smith's psoriatic arthritis symptoms have receded with appropriate treatment, and she's living a more normal, active life. "I'm stable," she says. "I'm dealing with nail psoriasis now, but my skin is clear and I can work out and play golf again." Simmie is also using her experience to educate others about the link between psoriasis and arthritis, and via the Canadian Psoriasis Network offers support and tools to help improve the quality of life of people who have psoriasis and PsA.
Thank you! xoxo