Blood work is also helpful. Doctors may test for indicators of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and the rheumatoid factor (an autoantibody that may or may not be present in people with rheumatoid arthritis, but is almost never present in people with psoriatic arthritis). Another test measures the sedimentation rate –the distance red blood cells fall in a test tube in one hour. The farther they fall; the greater the inflammation However, these tests are more useful at ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms – rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or even gout than providing a definitive diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis.

Treating the Disease – And More

Treatment for PsA typically involves a combined effort to control its symptoms, such as pain and inflammation, while stopping disease progress. The former goal is usually accomplished by analgesics, which treat pain and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or cortiscosteroids to address the inflammation. Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), leflunomide (Arava) and azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran) address the root causes of inflammation

A newer sub-category of DMARDs called biologic response modifiers, many of which were originally developed to fight cancer, address the out-of-control immune system by inhibiting the body’s overproduction of damaging agents like tumor necrosis factor alpha, a protein believed to trigger inflammation. The biologics most commonly used to fight PsA, according to the American College of Rheumatology, include etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira). Few drugs come without side effects, however, and people taking biologics are often at greater risk of infections and tuberculosis.

Psoriatic arthritis affects more than just joints, however. It can in fact affect the whole body, causing fatigue, anemia and other problems. Many people experience uveitis, inflammation of the middle and back part of the eye which, if left untreated, can cause blindness. The heart, lungs and the gastrointestinal system are also at risk, so it’s important for people with psoriatic arthritis to monitor all of their body’s systems carefully over time to detect any problems.

As with other autoimmune forms of arthritis, people with psoriatic arthritis may experience flares of the disease – a period of strong symptoms, particularly swelling, pain, redness or rashes. Flares are hard to predict and control, and can be debilitating.

A diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis means life will change. But by taking medications to control disease progress and adopting a healthy lifestyle – including healthy diet, regular exercise, managing stress, and curbing smoking and alcohol use – you can take charge of your health and your quality of life.