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Psoriasis Versus Psoriatic Arthritis

What is the Difference?

Psoriasis is a chronic immune-mediated, inflammatory disorder, explains Northwestern Medicine Dermatologist Julia Marie Mhlaba, MD. You might be aware of the most common form, plaque psoriasis. It is marked by patches of raised, red skin covered in a layer of silvery white scale. In people with darker skin, the patches can look more purple or brown. 

Other symptoms can include: 

  • Very dry skin
  • Cracking and bleeding
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Intense itching
  • Pain, tenderness or stinging 

Psoriasis most often appears on the knees, elbows and scalp but can also involve the hands, feet and trunk.

What is Psoriatic Arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that affects roughly 30% of people with psoriasis. The condition is characterized by joint inflammation.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Inflamed, swollen and painful joints, usually in the fingers and toes
  • Deformed joints from chronic inflammation

These symptoms closely mirror other types of arthritis. However, psoriatic arthritis is easier to diagnose if you already have psoriasis.

What is the Link Between the Conditions?

People with psoriatic arthritis often also have psoriasis, says Dr. Mhlaba. But just because you have psoriasis does not mean you have psoriatic arthritis.

Both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can lead to pain, discomfort and even embarrassment. You may have trouble doing daily tasks, especially those that involve fine motor skills.

In addition, the severity of the conditions is not always the same. Your psoriasis might be severe when your psoriatic arthritis is mild, and vice versa. The unpredictable natures of these conditions can be hard to manage on your own. Given this, Dr. Mhlaba recommends a group approach to treatment.

"Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are best managed by a team," she says. "Most often, this would consist of a dermatologist, a rheumatologist and a primary care physician."

If you have questions about your skin or think you have psoriasis or another skin issue, see your dermatologist or primary care physician. They can make a diagnosis and recommend the best treatment.