Psoriatic Arthritis: Learn the Warning Signs

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 14, 2023
3 min read

Psoriatic arthritis happens when your body’s immune system causes inflammation of your joints and surrounding structures (entheses) that connect to your bone.

About a third of people who have psoriasis get psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms may be severe and get worse quickly. They can also be mild and get worse slowly over many years.

This disease can happen at any age, but it’s usually found in people between 30 and 50 years old.

There’s no cure for psoriatic arthritis, but it’s important to discover it early so you and your doctor can make a treatment plan to slow the spread of the disease, ease pain, and protect your body. If left untreated, the disease can permanently harm joints and affect your range of motion.

It tends to run in families, too. If you’re related to someone with psoriatic arthritis, or if you have psoriasis, you should keep an eye out for symptoms.

Symptoms can include:

Joint pain and stiffness. Psoriatic arthritis can affect your:

  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Fingers
  • Toes
  • Lower back

Joints are more likely to be stiff first thing in the morning or after you rest for a while.

Joint warmth and swelling. Along with pain, inflammation can make your joints swollen and warm to the touch.

Nail problems. Psoriatic arthritis commonly causes changes to the nails, including pitting, breakage, or even separation of the nail from the nailbed.

Lower back pain. For about 20% of people with psoriatic arthritis, inflammation causes problems with the joints between your vertebrae, a condition called spondylitis. It also cause inflammation of the sacroiliac joint. In more severe cases, this can cause joints to fuse together.

Dactylitis. This is when entire fingers or toes swell to look like sausages. Signs of dactylitis can help doctors distinguish psoriatic arthritis from rheumatoid arthritis, which may affect more than one joint.

Eye problems. In some cases, people with psoriatic arthritis also experience eye problems. The same inflammatory process that causes joint problems can also damage other areas of the body such as eyes. Problems can include:

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Conjunctivitis, which is inflammation of the layer that lines the white of your eye and the inside of your eyelid
  • Pinkeye
  • Disturbed vision

Foot pain. Two of the most common places to find psoriatic arthritis are at the Achilles tendon, which is between the calf muscle and heel, or the bottom of your foot.

Elbow pain. The inflammation caused by psoriatic arthritis may make it feel a lot like tennis elbow, where you’d feel pain from the outside of your elbow into your forearm and wrist.

Fatigue. About half of people with psoriatic arthritis feel tiredness that affects their day-to-day activities. It’s caused by the inflammation that comes with psoriatic arthritis.

Trouble moving hands and fingers. The swelling and joint pain that can come with psoriatic arthritis can make even simple, day-to-day tasks hard.

If you have any of the above symptoms, especially if you have psoriasis or it runs in your family, talk with your doctor or a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in arthritis) about what’s going on.