Can Psoriatic Arthritis Cause Neurological Problems?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on July 21, 2022
5 min read

If you have an autoimmune disorder like psoriatic arthritis, you’re also at higher risk for neurological and psychiatric conditions. Experts think this may be because the inflammation that causes your skin and joint symptoms can also affect your brain and nervous system.

Psoriasis doesn’t affect just your skin. It often leads to psoriatic arthritis, which can affect any part of your body, including your brain and spine. Neurological conditions that have been linked to psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Myasthenia gravis, a rare condition that damages your nerve-to-muscle connections, causing muscle weakness
  • Fibromyalgia, a nerve condition which causes widespread pain, fatigue, and mental health issues
  • Other pain disorders

Psychiatric conditions linked to the conditions include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Psychosis
  • Cognitive issues
  • Personality disorders
  • Sexual disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia

When you have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, leading to inflammation. In addition to the problems it can cause on your skin and in your joints, it’s thought that inflammation could:

  • Make you more prone to pain
  • Cause fatigue and “brain fog”
  • Damage vessels supplying blood to your brain, putting you at risk for stroke and migraine

Inflammation in your brain can also disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters (chemical “messengers” that carry information from your nerves to other parts of your body) and other molecules. This could make you more vulnerable to seizures.

Long-term inflammation can throw off the immune response in your brain. Experts think this process might play a role in schizophrenia, and perhaps also multiple sclerosis and certain mood disorders. Damage to nerve cells from inflammation can also lead to diseases of the central nervous system, like Parkinson’s. 

Long-lasting inflammation can also cause mood disorders such as depression. People with depression tend to have high levels of inflammation even if they don’t have an inflammatory disease like psoriatic arthritis. People with depression and those with psoriasis also have higher levels of many of the same inflammation-causing molecules. Both conditions can be caused by the same genetic factors. Low levels of vitamin D3 and melatonin, a hormone related to sleep cycles, contribute to both as well.

Chronic conditions also have a powerful influence on your emotional and mental health. That’s not just because of physical effects on your brain. Many of these disorders, like chronic pain, can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and other issues because they’re hard to live with. They can cause stress due to health care costs and lost productivity at work. Psoriasis also has visible physical symptoms that may embarrass you and harm your self-esteem.

You can’t prevent certain brain disorders altogether. But you can take action to lower your risks, as well as reduce some symptoms:

Treat your inflammation. If you have psoriatic arthritis, your doctor might have you on:

  • An NSAID like ibuprofen
  • Steroids for short-term relief
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that decrease inflammation
  • Biologic DMARDS that block inflammation by targeting specific parts of your immune system

Always take your medications as directed to help keep inflammation under control.

Exercise.Obesity boosts your risk for psoriasis and for several neurological and psychiatric disorders. This may be in part because fat tissue can be a direct source of molecules that cause inflammation. Obesity can also put stress on your bones and joints, which can cause both physical damage and inflammation. It’s important to keep your body strong, especially if you carry extra weight, and exercise can help.

Obesity can also lead to nerve damage. This can happen as a result of joint inflammation. It can also be caused by the high blood sugar that comes with diabetes.

Exercise is also good for your mental and emotional health. While it’s not a cure for mental health issues, it’s an important tool in your arsenal.

Practice good sleep hygiene. Adequate sleep is another important way to lower inflammation and reduce your risk of brain symptoms and disorders. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and comfortable. Make a soothing bedtime routine and stick to it. Use a white-noise machine if it helps you.

If anxious thoughts keep you up at night, keep a notepad next to your bed. Jot down thoughts to help you put them out of your mind. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, screens, and big meals before bed.

Eat healthy. A heart-healthy diet with the right kinds of fats helps reduce inflammation and keep your blood vessels from getting clogged. That can lower your risk of stroke. Talk to your doctor about the best diet for you. They can also refer you to a specialist, like a dietitian or a rheumatologist who specializes in nutrition. There’s no one diet that’s best for reducing inflammation, but here are some tips for healthier eating:

  • Cut down on saturated fats, found in meat, butter, and cheese. (One exception is coconut oil, in small quantities, which might actually reduce inflammation.)
  • Don’t overdo omega-6 fatty acids, found in corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, and vegetable oils.
  • Increase omega-3 fatty acids, found in flaxseeds, walnuts, and oily fish like salmon.
  • Avoid trans fats, found in highly processed or fried foods.
  • Watch your sugar intake.

High-sugar, high-calorie, high-saturated-fat diets are bad for your brain health. That’s because they increase oxidative stress, a process in your cells that leads to tissue and cell damage. They can also hinder communication in your brain cells. This kind of diet has been shown to hamper some types of learning, and to make the symptoms of brain injuries worse and longer-lasting.

Quit smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for nearly all the neurological and psychiatric conditions linked to psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Talk with your doctor about resources to help you quit.

Get screened. Stay up to date on your check-ups and screenings. Many physical problems are risk factors for brain disorders. This includes aneurysms, bulges caused by weakened areas in your blood vessels, especially if you have a family history of them. Keep up with screening for carotid stenosis, a narrowing of the blood vessels between your heart and your brain. And monitor your blood pressure regularly.