The Link Between Psoriatic Arthritis and Breathing Problems

Psoriatic arthritis has been linked to several conditions that cause breathing problems. Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes red scaly patches on the skin. When the condition affects the joints, it is known as psoriatic arthritis.

Having psoriatic arthritis can put you at higher risk of developing respiratory diseases, such as asthma, sarcoidosis, interstitial lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer.

Psoriatic arthritis causes systemic inflammation, which is believed to trigger these other diseases.

The risk of developing a lung condition with psoriatic arthritis can be up to 50% more than the general population. However, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and treating your psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can help reduce this risk.

Doctor examining patient's lungs

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

How Psoriatic Arthritis Affects the Lungs

Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are thought to lead to lung conditions due to inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to harmful substances. It is normally how we heal. However, in diseases like psoriasis, the inflammation becomes widespread, affecting healthy tissues.

In psoriatic arthritis, inflammation-causing substances are released into the blood system. These then affect tissues throughout the body.

Ongoing inflammation can produce changes in the structures of the respiratory system, leading to different lung conditions. Depending on how the airways and lungs are affected, various outcomes can occur. Breathing problems can develop when the tissues of the lungs and respiratory system are affected.

Lung Conditions Linked to Psoriatic Arthritis

Although research is ongoing, links between several conditions and psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis have been found.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes narrowing and obstruction in the airways due to inflammation or an outside trigger like allergies. The inflammation caused by psoriatic arthritis can occur in your airways, making it difficult to breathe.

There is an increased risk of developing asthma if you have psoriatic arthritis. The risk of developing asthma with psoriasis is higher in those over the age of 50.

Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that causes small clumps of cells to form in various parts of the body, most commonly in the lungs and skin.

A study of the Danish population found that people with psoriatic arthritis had a 50% higher risk of developing sarcoidosis due to the overlap of inflammation.

Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is the technical term for a complex set of lung conditions, including interstitial pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis.

Though one study showed a slight increase in patients who had interstitial lung disease and psoriatic arthritis at the same time, there was not enough evidence to definitively conclude that psoriatic arthritis puts one at higher risk of developing ILD.

However, the study’s authors suggested that there may well be a connection due to the common inflammation patterns in both diseases. Further research is needed.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a set of diseases that obstruct airflow in the lungs. This includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Having psoriasis puts you at a higher risk of developing COPD.

This association is greater in those with severe psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. Smoking with either of these conditions can make the risk even greater.

Lung Cancer

Many cancer risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, have been associated with psoriasis. This may explain the association between psoriatic arthritis and lung cancer.

However, one study found an increased risk of lung cancer in those who have psoriasis, although the overall cancer risk is not elevated.

Risk Factors

There are certain risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing breathing problems with psoriatic arthritis. These include but are not limited to:

  • Smoking
  • Genetics: Increased with a family history of the disease
  • Obesity
  • Infection: Such as HIV
  • Trauma or injury to a joint
  • Emotional stress

Symptoms and Signs

Though each condition has its own specific symptoms, if you have any of the following signs of a respiratory disease, you should talk to your doctor. These include but are not limited to:

  • A frequent cough that does not go away, or a cough that produces a lot of mucus
  • A whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • Tightness in your chest

Psoriatic Arthritis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor and patient discuss psoriatic arthritis

When to Call a Doctor

You should speak to your doctor regularly about your psoriatic arthritis and the risk of lung conditions. Staying on top of your treatment and having regular visits with your doctor can help keep you healthy.

Having an elevated risk does not necessarily mean that you will develop one of the lung conditions associated with psoriatic arthritis. But maintaining awareness can help prevent future problems.

If you experience any of the signs or symptoms of a lung condition, you should make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.

When to Seek Emergency Help

If you experience difficulty breathing that does not get better, you have trouble walking and talking due to shortness of breath, or your lips or fingernails turn blue, seek emergency services immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does psoriatic arthritis affect your ribs?

Psoriatic arthritis can affect your thoracic spine, making it difficult to expand your chest and ribs. Since the disease also causes pain and inflammation in the tendons and ligaments of the body, you may experience pain along your ribs.

How is psoriatic arthritis treated?

Mild forms of psoriatic arthritis can be treated with over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling. Corticosteroids may also be injected into the affected joints.

For more severe forms of the disease, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may be prescribed to decrease signs and symptoms. In some cases, biologics may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and prevent further damage.

What other conditions are linked to psoriatic arthritis?

The following conditions are linked to psoriatic arthritis:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Liver disease
  • Uveitis

Summary

Psoriatic arthritis is linked to several conditions that affect breathing. The inflammation seen in psoriatic arthritis can damage the airways and lungs. Conditions such as asthma, sarcoidosis, interstitial lung disease, COPD, and lung cancer occur more often in people with psoriatic arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

Getting diagnosed with a chronic illness can be difficult. Though you might feel overwhelmed to learn that your condition puts you at higher risk of lung problems, there are ways to prevent further complications.

Knowing all the possible conditions that are associated with psoriatic arthritis can empower you to take charge of your health and give you a sense of control over your well-being.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor about any new or concerning symptoms, even if they seem small or inconsequential. Avoid smoking, follow the treatment plan your doctor develops for you, and ask questions.

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