More than 7 million Americans are affected by psoriasis, and up to 30 percent of them will develop psoriatic arthritis. But the painful condition is not very well understood, and there are many misconceptions about it, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
“Most people have never heard of psoriatic arthritis,” says 33-year-old Nandi Butcher, who lives with the condition.
Dr. Nathan Wei, the director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Maryland, says people who live with psoriatic arthritis not only have to endure the hardships their illness pose, but also the many myths about it.
Here are 8 misconceptions about psoriatic arthritis:
Psoriatic arthritis is predictable. Unfortunately, the disease isn’t consistent or predictable and the level of pain can change from day to day without warning. This can confuse people who think you are experiencing the same symptoms and pain level on a daily basis. Stress and inflammation can both affect the severity of symptoms.
If you don’t look sick, you’re fine. “If your skin condition isn’t too bad but your arthritis is, you may get comments like, ‘Gee, what’s wrong? You don’t look sick,’ ” says Wei. “Drawing from inner strength as well as the support of your rheumatologist, friends and family can be powerful.” When friends and family ask if you’re okay, be honest with them. If you’re tired and in pain it’s okay to share those feelings with your loved ones.
You’ll get better soon. Although well-intentioned, this comment from well-wishers can leave psoriatic arthritis sufferers feeling defeated. Unfortunately, the condition is chronic and needs to be constantly managed. Although there’s no cure, it can be treated.
“I focus on the fact that it is chronic and never going away,” says Butcher, “so I have to be my healthiest self to keep it as much under control as possible.” Medications can help reduce pain and prevent joint damage while treating the skin symptoms related to psoriasis. These medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, and biologics. Healthy lifestyle habits like exercising and eating well can also have a positive effect on psoriatic arthritis.
You’re always tired. This one is more fact than misconception, but difficult to hear loved ones make this observation. Extreme fatigue is a symptom of psoriatic arthritis, along with swelling, stiffness and pain around the joints. Fatigue can be caused by inflammation, as well as medications and anemia.
“When I was taking a lot of medications to control my inflammation, I would get really tired,” recalls Butcher. “My friends didn’t understand why I was the first to fall asleep on a car trip or the one to go to bed early. I just couldn’t muster the energy; my body just said, ‘Nope.’”
You’re too young for arthritis. Although osteoarthritis is more likely to strike elderly populations, psoriatic arthritis doesn’t discriminate by age. Psoriatic arthritis is most common between the ages of 30 and 50 and young children and adults can have the condition, too.
You’ll feel better with rest. Psoriatic arthritis doesn’t improve with rest. According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular physical activity can keep affected areas more flexible and can alleviate some pain. Maintaining a healthy weight also helps keep pressure off sensitive joints.
You can “catch” psoriasis. This is a damaging misconception about psoriasis. “If your skin condition is bad, you may tend to self-isolate,” explains Wei. “Comments and looks can be devastating.” Genetics play a role in why some people develop psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Both conditions are caused by an overactive immune system, which launches an inflammatory response against the body.
Psoriatic arthritis isn’t a “real” disease. Psoriatic arthritis is often an invisible disease but certainly a real one. It’s defined mostly by pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue. The pain and other symptoms felt are related to inflammation in the body and need to be treated by a doctor.
“I was influenced in the beginning by people saying the pain was just in my head,” says Butcher. “Now I can say, ‘No. I know what this is, and I know what I have to do to feel the best I can.’”
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