I’ve had psoriasis for a long time now. Thought I’d check in and see if there’s anything new. Give me a quick refresher, won’t you please?

There is a new review article out on psoriatic arthritis from surgeons from New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases. They bring us up-to-date on this condition with a good discussion of causes, symptoms, the diagnosis, and treatment. Complications of medical management and outcomes of treatment are also presented.

Psoriasis affects a small portion of the adult population in the United States (somewhere between 0.6 to less than five per cent). Men and women who develop psoriatic arthritis are usually in their 30s and 40s. Skin changes may appear first but some people notice joint pain, stiffness, and swelling before they break out.

The reason psoriatic arthritis occurs still remains somewhat of a mystery. There is a genetic link for some patients that is associated with trauma or infection. But exactly why the immune system goes haywire in this fashion is not clearly understood.

Studies show that there are actually five different types of psoriatic arthritis based on clinical presentation. In all cases, the hands are the main area affected but the toes, spine, and sacroiliac joints can also be involved. The different patterns are seen in which joints are affected, whether the condition is symmetric (affecting both hands at the same time), and the severity of the joint destruction.

There is still no special blood or lab test that can diagnose the problem. Most of the time, the diagnosis is made based on the physician’s examination and observations of the patient. Of course, X-rays clearly show joint erosion, damage, and deformities in the later stages of the disease. X-rays of the hands, feet, and spine are recommended to make sure all areas affected are identified and treated.

Treatment remains a matter of medical management. In fact, it could be said that “it takes a village” to treat psoriatic arthritis. Dermatologists, rheumatologists, medical doctors, and physical therapists must work together to guide the patient and prevent as much damage as possible.

The specific treatment approach used is individual and based on symptoms and severity of the disease. It is recognized now that early aggressive treatment with medications to control the disease process is important. Medications typically prescribed include antiinflammatories and disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

New treatment called biologic treatment uses special immune-blocking agents to stop the inflammatory process at different points in the cascade of events leading to the effects of this disease. If there is severe joint destruction and damage, surgery may be needed to reduce pain and improve function. A variety of different surgical procedures can be used including debridement (cleaning the joint of thick tissue and debris), joint fusion, and joint replacement.

Studies reporting the long-term results of surgical management of psoriatic arthritis are limited. In general, there appears to be some improvement in pain and function but stiffness and recurrent, progressive disease are common. There is a need for more studies to report on the results of treatment to help guide physicians, surgeons, and patients in making the choice that will yield the best outcomes.