10 Tips for Living Better With Psoriatic Arthritis
How to cope with psoriatic arthritis
Psoriatic arthritis is challenging, and not everyone copes the same way.
Tom "EZ" Goen has severe, disabling psoriatic arthritis. With his symptoms under control with medication,
he decided to travel across country on his Harley. To get there, he modified his bike because he doesn’t have the strength to hold it up.
For most people, coping involves medication, psychological support, lifestyle changes, and modifying life to fit your needs. Here are some other things that might help.
Build a support system
If you have chronic pain, family and friends may not get what you’re going through.
They may expect you to "get better" or be able to do things in the way you did before you got sick. To help family and friends understand, involve them in your treatment, such as accompanying you to doctor’s appointments.
Even if your family provides unwavering support, it’s not a bad idea to connect with other patients in local support groups or online forums through sites like the
Knowledge is power. The more you know about psoriatic arthritis, the better your chance of not letting it get the best of you.
The National Psoriasis Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation offer information on symptoms and treatment, as well as tools for finding a physician or support group.
The Arthritis Foundation also publishes a magazine, Arthritis Today, which is full of tips and the latest news.
Dan Fohrman, MD, a rheumatologist in Bend, Ore., recommends The Arthritis Helpbook ($7; amazon.com). It provides advice on treatments, nutrition, exercising, and reducing pain.
Buy the right products
There are a wide range of products available today that are modified for people who have problems doing things like opening jars or turning a door knob.
The Arthritis Foundation awards a list of products—including appliances, furniture, exercise equipment, and kitchen tools—with its
The organization suggests purchasing glasses with texture (they’re easier to grasp), and products in general that are lightweight and simple to use and maintain.
Address your stress
When stressed, the body releases chemicals that increase inflammation and pain, which only exacerbate symptoms of psoriasis and arthritis.
Recognize anxiety triggers and avoid them. If you get frazzled when you have a lot to do, master time management. For example, if you notice you are most energetic in the evening, do as much as you can then for the next day, like packing your lunch.
If you feel stress levels rising, relax with deep breathing, yoga, or tai chi. Nothing alleviates stress more than something you enjoy, so make sure there’s time for hobbies, family, and friends.
Explore exercise options
People with psoriatic arthritis can exercise, but they need to carefully choose how and when to do it. Exercise strengthens muscles that support the joints.
Too little activity can lead to discomfort and stiffness, Dr. Fohrman says. Too much activity, on the other hand, can cause a flare-up.
It’s best to stick with low- or no-impact exercises like walking, cycling, swimming, or cross-country skiing. Talk with a physical therapist to plan an exercise regimen and figure out when it’s best to dial it back.
Watch for other problems
Research is beginning to show that other illnesses, including depression, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, tend to go hand in hand with psoriasis, Dr. Fohrman says.
And because about 85% of psoriatic arthritis patients develop psoriasis before arthritis, they may be at risk for the above conditions.
Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis may be the tip of the iceberg, so talk with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or problems like unusual fatigue and chest pain, or increased urination, which can be signs of heart trouble or diabetes, respectively.
Don’t give up
Dr. Fohrman sees patients who have suffered for years before seeking treatment for psoriatic arthritis; others have given up on finding treatment that will work.
If your medication isn’t working, tell your doctor. There are many drugs that can be "dramatically effective," Dr. Fohrman says.
If you don’t think you're getting the right treatment, Dr. Fohrman recommends seeing a rheumatologist who generally would know more about drug options than a primary-care physician or dermatologist. If you are seeing a rheumatologist but not getting relief, see a different one.
Try hot or cold packs
Which is best? Well, that depends on you, Dr. Fohrman says.
In general, cold packs work better for those who have a sudden onset of pain, while people with chronic pain tend to prefer hot packs, he says. Some alternate between the two.
There are no rules about how long to leave the packs on. "Do what makes you feel best," Dr. Fohrman says.
Control your weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for psoriatic arthritis patients.
Being overweight can create stress and strain on the joints, especially weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips, as well as the ankles and feet, Dr. Fohrman says. "Carrying around 50 pounds of extra weight is also taking a toll on energy and fitness."
Rather than skipping meals to lose weight, eat foods rich in
Don't skimp on sleep
Fatigue is common with psoriatic arthritis. For some, it's even more trying than the arthritis, says Stephen Paget, MD, rheumatologist and physician-in-chief emeritus at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City.
The inflammation and pain associated with arthritis contribute to fatigue, so getting treatment can help. But in some cases, drugs for psoriatic arthritis can cause fatigue. You might discuss changing medications with your doctor.
Also, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and big meals before bed. On days when you can't shake the sleepiness, take a nap, or reschedule activities for when you feel more refreshed.