What is psoriatic arthritis (PsA)?


What is psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation of the joints. This causes the joints to become painful, stiff and often swollen. The normal role of your body’s immune system is to fight off infections to keep you healthy. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system  starts attacking your own healthy tissues.

Usually only people who have a skin disease called psoriasis are affected by psoriatic arthritis. One in three people with psoriasis will develop this type of arthritis.


What are the symptoms?

Psoriatic arthritis can affect any joint in the body and symptoms can vary from person to person. It can develop slowly with mild symptoms or come on quickly and be severe. The most common symptoms are:

  • Pain, swelling and stiffness in or more joints
  • Pain and stiffness in the buttocks, lower back or neck (also known as spondylitis, meaning inflammation of the spine)
  • Pain in tendons, such as at the back of the heel or sole of the foot (tendons are the strong cords that attach muscles onto bones)
  • Changes in nails, such as thickening, colour change or separation from the skin
  • Pain and redness in the eyes


What causes it?

The exact cause of psoriatic arthritis is not known. Genetics, the immune system and environmental factors, such as an infection, may play roles in causing this type of arthritis. This has yet to be proven in research. A certain gene called HLA-B27 is associated with psoriatic arthritis, especially inflammation of the spine. However, this is a perfectly normal gene and there are many more people who have this gene and do not get psoriatic arthritis.


How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose psoriatic arthritis from your symptoms and a physical examination. Your skin will be examined for signs of psoriasis, if you have not been diagnosed with this already. There is no specific test for psoriatic arthritis. However, your doctor may order blood tests for inflammation, such as the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test. Blood tests may also help to rule out other types of arthritis.



What will happen to me?

With the right treatment, most people with psoriatic arthritis can lead full and active lives. However, the course of psoriatic arthritis is variable and no two cases are the same. Many people find their symptoms worsen at times (known as a 'flare') and then settle down for a period of time. About one in 20 people with psoriatic arthritis will develop a more severe, destructive form which can cause deformity to the joints in the hands and/or feet. Most people with psoriatic arthritis will some ongoing treatments to control their symptoms and prevent damage to the joints. This is usually managed by a rheumatologist


Is there a cure for psoriatic arthritis?

Currently there is no cure for psoriatic arthritis. However, treatment for psoriatic arthritis has improved dramatically, with new medicines that are extremely helpful in controlling the condition. Be wary of any products or therapies that claim to cure psoriatic arthritis.


What treatments are there for psoriatic arthritis?

Your rheumatologist will tailor your treatment to your symptoms and how severe your condition is. There is no way of predicting exactly which treatment will work best for you. Your doctor may need to trial several different treatments before finding the one that is right for you and may include medicines, such as:

For more information see the Australian Rheumatology Association’s Patients Medication Information or see the Medicines and arthritis information sheet.


What can I do?

  1. See a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist can diagnose psoriatic arthritis and make sure you get the right treatment to help your symptoms and prevent future problems. If you have psoriatic arthritis and have not seen a rheumatologist, ask your doctor to consider referring you.
  2. Learn about psoriatic arthritis and play an active role in your treatment. Not all information you read or hear about is trustworthy so always talk to your doctor or healthcare team about treatments you are thinking about trying. Reliable sources of further information are also listed in the section below. Self-management courses aim to help you develop skills to be actively involved in your healthcare. Contact your local arthritis office for details of these courses.
  3. Learn ways to manage pain 
  4. Live a healthy life. Stay physically active, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking and reduce stress to help your overall health and wellbeing. Read our Things you can do resources for more information.
  5. Learn how to look after your joints when you are fatigued.
  6. Acknowledge your feelings and seek support. As there is currently no cure for psoriatic arthritis, it is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad and sometimes angry. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life.