Living With Psoriatic Arthritis

Coping, Living Well, and Finding Support

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There is no denying that living with and managing psoriatic arthritis is challenging. After all, there is no cure for this debilitating autoimmune disease that affects 30% of people with the inflammatory skin condition called psoriasis. PsA causes symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and stiffness, in your joints. Regardless, having PsA shouldn’t keep you from living your best life. The little things you do every day make a difference in how well you cope and feel overall.

Emotional

Living with PSA has its challenges beyond the physical symptoms of pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue.  There is also an emotional side to this disease.

It is not unusual to feel frustrated by your symptoms and being unable to handle simple tasks. You may also be stressed about healthcare and medication costs, and how your illness affects loved ones. Or, if you have skin plaques, their locations may cause you to feel embarrassment.

Despite these challenges, you can still deal with emotions positively.  

Tame Anxiety

Like other long-term illnesses, PsA stress can cause low energy, poor sleep, mood changes, and appetite problems. It may also cause you to avoid socializing. All of these things eventually cause you to feel anxious and worried about the future. 

With PsA, anxious feelings can also worsen symptoms and trigger disease flare-ups—periods of high disease activity that may include joint pain and skin symptoms. Both stress and anxiety also cause sleep problems, which may translate into more pain and fatigue.

A few minutes of time each day to reflect makes a difference in managing anxious feelings. In fact, this is just as important as taking medications and following your treatment plan.

You can tame feelings of anxiety by doing something nice for yourself daily to ease the stress of living with PsA; it doesn't have to be anything big either. Simply making yourself a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea after a long day your day is an example of a small thing you can do for yourself that can help relieve stress. 

Treat Depression 

Living with the effects of PsA can also cause you to feel depressed. According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to one-third of people with a chronic illness will experience symptoms of depression

Symptoms of depression may include: 

  • Sadness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Trouble sleeping
  • High levels of fatigue
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning
  • Mood swings
  • Unusual weight loss or gain
  • Problems with concentration, decision-making, and remembering things
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and muscle pain with no known cause 

The good news is that depression can be treated. Anti-depressant medications can help reset brain chemicals and talk therapy can help you to work through coping troubles. There are even cognitive-behavioral coping exercises that can help.

If you find you are experiencing symptoms of depression that last more than a couple weeks, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can come up with a treatment plan to help you feel better. 

Help Yourself 

One of the best things you can do when your emotional health is struggling is to talk to a mental health professional. Counseling can help you change negative thoughts and build skills to make you stronger emotionally and allow you to effectively cope.  

You may also want to try some stress relief methods. Yoga and tai chi are gentle activities that can help you feel calm and improve your body’s flexibility. Other options you can help are mind and body therapies, including biofeedback, muscle relaxation, or guided imagery, to help control your response to stress and manage pain. 

Physical

Lifestyle strategies—including diet, activity, rehabilitation, and avoidance of unhealthy habits—can help manage PsA symptoms and reduce disease flares. Most of these changes are not drastic and only require simple adjustments and additions to your daily routine to bring about significant improvement to life quality.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Sticking to a healthy diet can not only improve a person’s health overall, but it can also be helpful in reducing joint inflammation and skin symptoms associated with PsA. For example, some foods can increase inflammation when consumed by people with PsA. 

Moreover, there are foods that can help to reduce inflammation, including those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, nuts, and seeds. Some supplements, such as turmeric, can be helpful as well.

In general, people with PsA can reduce symptoms by avoiding fatty red meats, dairy, and sugar. It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about alcohol intake, as alcohol can interact with some medications. Both alcohol and these medications may have negative effects on your liver as well. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Extra weight can add stress to joints, especially the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Maintaining an ideal weight can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation. 

Work with your doctor or a dietitian to figure out the best ways to lose weight and keep it off.

Keep Moving

Regular exercise can prevent joints from getting painful and stiff. Water exercises are ideal for people with arthritis because water does not put pressure on joints.

 A physical therapist can help you find exercises for your unique situation and condition. Running is okay for people who don’t have symptoms in their hips, knees, ankles or feet. Yoga is a better option if you have inflammation in the lower extremities. 

Joint Protection 

Joint protection involves modifying your activities to avoid strain on joints and avoiding heavy impact activities, such as walking fast on a hard surface or running on a treadmill. It is also important to strike a balance between activity and rest. Make sure to rest painful and inflamed joints and avoid strenuous activities during periods of disease flare-up. 

Don’t Smoke 

People with PsA who also smoke have more severe disease and don’t respond to treatment as well as people with PsA who do not smoke, this according to one 2014 observational study reported in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. The study’s researchers examined the connection between tobacco smoking and disease activity, treatment adherence, and treatment response in people with PsA using TNF-inhibitor therapy

Of the 1,388 PsA patients, 33% were current smokers, 26% were previous smokers and 41% had never smoked. The researchers followed the patients for a number of years and found the current smokers had poorer medication adherence and worse treatment outcomes, compared to the never smokers. 

Researchers don’t know the exact reason smoking worsens PsA symptoms. Smoking will also increase risk for a number of serious health conditions, including lung cancer and heart disease. Quitting smoking can help prevent PsA symptoms and flares, and also reduce your risk for other health complications. 

Manage All Your Health Conditions 

Many people with PsA aren’t just dealing with just PsA and psoriasis. PsA is linked to other health conditions, including metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes), Crohn’s disease, diabetes and more. 

Having other health conditions under control can help prevent PsA flares and slow down disease progression. This may require you to see multiple doctors to treat each separate condition. Your doctors can work together to find treatments and lifestyle changes that can best help manage PsA and your overall health.

Social

Living with PsA, you know the emotional aspects of the disease are just as difficult as the physical symptoms. Feelings of hopelessness and fears of losing your independence are just a few of the emotions you might be feeling. The best way to meet all your challenges—physical and emotional—is by seeking out support.  

Online Resources and Support

Online resources, including blogs, podcasts, and articles, will offer the latest news and information about PsA. They may also offer information about connecting to others living with PsA.

National organization websites—including the National Psoriasis Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation—offer a wide variety of information on their websites about PsA. They also have online forums to help you connect with others around the country also living with PsA.

Online support groups are a great way to connect with others going through similar struggles. Being connected can help you feel less isolated, improve your understanding of your condition, and provide you with feedback about treatment. Just remember, whatever information you receive should not replace the advice of your doctor. 

If you want to try an in-person support group, your doctor’s office may be able to recommend one. Your local Arthritis Foundation office may also have an in-person support group that meets near your home. 

Be wary of support groups that promise a cure for your condition or require high fees to join. 

Family and Friends 

Family and friends can be a great source of support or help. Whether it is pitching in to help out with household chores or listening when you are struggling or feeling low, these people can make your life easier until symptoms improve.

However, not everyone in your life will understand or be supportive. Try to surround yourself with people who care and who you can talk to openly when are feeling stressed and isolated.

Educate Yourself

It is important to learn as much as you can about PsA so you can be aware of what to expect. You can also use your knowledge to educate others and raise awareness. Find out all you can about PsA signs and symptoms and treatment options.  

The more you know, the more you will feel assured and confident. You will also be empowered to help others understand and empathize with your struggles and the struggles of others living with PsA. 

A Word From Verywell

Living with PsA is going to be different for each person with the condition. Some people may have symptoms that cause mild discomfort, but don’t affect daily life. Others may have more severe symptoms that impact their ability to complete even the simplest activities.

No matter the severity of your disease, make sure you are working with your doctor to find the best treatment plan to improve your outlook and quality of life.

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