When a person with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) has symptoms, they likely have active PsA. Symptoms may include swelling, pain, and lack of mobility in their joints.

PsA is a chronic illness associated with psoriasis, a skin condition that causes scaly, irritated skin plaques.

For some people, symptoms appear as flares that improve and then come back. Others experience continuous symptoms.

Treatment can ease symptoms of active PsA, but there is no cure. Seeking treatment as soon as symptoms occur may produce faster improvements.

Read on to learn more about active psoriatic arthritis.

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Active PsA means that a person currently has symptoms.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to grow much more often than usual. This produces scaly, irritated, dry, or peeling plaques on the skin. It can also affect the nails, causing pitting and misshapen nails.

Between 20% and 30% of people with psoriasis eventually develop PsA. This causes joint inflammation, leading pain, mobility difficulties, and swollen joints.

Most people first notice symptoms in the hands and feet. Symptoms may include swollen hands and fingers that may look sausage-shaped. However, PsA can affect any joint, and some people develop widespread joint pain.

Psoriasis and PsA are chronic conditions. This means that a person has psoriatic arthritis even if treatment has eliminated their symptoms.

Active PsA means a person has symptoms that may be significant enough to cause pain or affect daily life.

Learn more about PsA complications here.

PsA and active PsA are the same.

Active PsA means that a person currently has symptoms that may be significant enough to bother them and may include:

To receive a diagnosis of active PsA, a person only needs to have psoriasis and joint symptoms. They do not need to have all symptoms, and they may not have symptoms at present.

Some people have symptoms all the time. However, for others, symptoms come and go. These symptoms may develop in response to certain triggers.

Learn how PsA affects the body here.

Doctors usually diagnose psoriasis based on an exam and medical history. They may also order blood work or other tests to rule out other causes of symptoms.

However, no specific lab test can PsA. For this reason, a doctor may rely primarily on an exam and medical history.

A person with psoriasis who also has joint pain and swollen fingers probably has PsA.

Bloodwork to measure the ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and CRP (C-reactive protein) levels may help since PsA often leads to raised levels of these. However, a lack of elevation does not rule out PsA. A doctor may also order imaging scans of the joints to look for joint damage and swelling.

Learn more about diagnostic and other tests for PsA.

Treatment has two main goals: reducing symptoms and preventing the disease from getting worse.

To manage symptoms, a doctor may recommend the following:

To slow the progression of the disease and increase the chances of remission, doctors usually prescribe disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These target the inflammation and disease process to reverse PsA or slow its progression.

Treatment in the early stages of symptom progression may improve outcomes, so a person should seek medical care as soon as they notice symptoms.

Lifestyle changes can also improve outcomes. Quitting smoking if applicable, attaining a moderate weight, managing stress, and reducing or eliminating alcohol may prevent the disease from getting worse.

Some people notice that certain triggers cause PsA to flare up. For example, stress or infections may worsen or cause new symptoms. Identifying these triggers can help a person reduce their exposure to them and better control the disease.

Learn more about PsA medication.

A person should contact a doctor if:

  • PsA symptoms do not improve with treatment.
  • The treatment causes unpleasant side effects that do not go away.
  • A person develops symptoms of psoriasis for the first time.
  • A person develops joint pain.
  • A person has questions about treatment options or symptom management.

Learn more about what to expect with PsA.

Active PsA means that a person is currently experiencing symptoms.

The first line of treatment works well for many people, but others may need to try several treatments to get results. A rheumatologist can work with a person to develop a personalized treatment plan that manages symptoms and slows the progression of the disease.

Because PsA symptoms can develop quickly and be aggressive, it is important that people seek treatment as soon as they notice symptoms.