Arthritis, Psoriatic

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

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Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion

Psoriatic, Arthritis is a rheumatoid-like arthritic condition characterized by pain and swelling (inflammation) of the joints (arthritis) that occurs in association with gray discoloration or scaly plaques of the skin (psoriasis). Abnormalities of the nails may also be present. In many cases, skin symptoms precede the development of arthritis by several years. The exact cause of the psoriatic arthritis is unknown.


The course of psoriatic arthritis varies from case to case. Many affected individuals are only mildly affected. In approximately 20 percent of cases, affected individuals may develop a severe, disabling form of arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis may develop slowly with few symptoms or rapidly.

Psoriatic arthritis is sometimes broken down into five different variants. However, affected individuals may progress from one form of the disorder to another. In addition, one or more of the five variants may overlap in one individual. Consequently, determining the exact incidence rate of these variants is difficult. It is important to note that affected individuals will not have all of the symptoms listed below.

In most cases, psoriatic arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the joints as well as inflammation of the bones and tissues around the joints. Involvement of the joints often results in stiffness, especially in the morning (morning stiffness). Psoriasis of the nails or skin may precede or follow joint involvement. In many cases, symptoms of psoriasis occur first often preceding joint problems by several years.

Psoriasis is a skin condition characterized by distinctive silvery gray spots or plaques, with sharply defined margins. These scaly areas usually appear on the scalp, the elbows, the knees and the skin over the lower end of the spinal region. In some cases, affected individuals may develop small depressions (pitting) on the fingernails and toenails.

The last joints of the fingers or toes, lower back (sacrum), wrists, knees or ankles are usually most affected by psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms are usually not the same on both sides of the body (asymmetric). Rheumatoid nodules are often not present. Exacerbations and remissions tend to be more frequent, rapid, and complete than those occurring in rheumatoid arthritis, but progression to chronic arthritis and severe deformities may occur in some affected individuals. Aside from the skin involvement and joint pain, which may be disabling, people with psoriatic arthritis otherwise usually feel well.

Additional findings may include the development of a condition where the appearance of the toes resembles sausage (dactylitis), extensive destruction or dislocation of various large and small joints, and a severe deforming form of arthritis known as arthritis mutilans. Arthritis mutilans, which occurs in about five percent of affected individuals, is characterized by severe arthritis affecting the fingers and toes. Arthritis mutilans may progress to cause degenerative changes and loss of the calcium of bone (osteolysis).

In some cases, redness, swelling and pain affecting the eyes and inflammation of the transparent, thin membrane that protects and helps lubricate the eyelids and whites of the eyes (conjunctivitis) may also occur.


The cause of psoriatic arthritis is not known. Several factors may contribute to the development of the disorder, including immunological, genetic, environmental, and/or other factors. Approximately 40 percent of affected individuals may have a family history of arthritis or psoriasis.

According to researchers, underlying genetic and immune mechanisms may be suggested by various findings, including an increased frequency of certain genetically determined "human leukocyte antigens" (HLAs) in some individuals with certain types of the disease. HLAs are proteins that play an important role in the body's immune system; they influence the outcome of transplantation and appear to affect an individual's predisposition to certain diseases. Specifically, the HLA-B27 antigen is present in the blood of many individuals with psoriatic arthritis. However, the implications of such findings are not fully understood.

Affected Populations

Depending upon the medical literature, of the many Americans who have psoriasis, anywhere from five to 40 percent develop psoriatic arthritis. It is more common in women and usually first appears between the ages of 20 and 50 years, but onset can occur at any age.

Standard Therapies

Individuals with inflammation of multiple joints (polyarthritis) who test negative for rheumatoid arthritis should be examined for unrecognized or minimal psoriasis that may indicate the presence of this disorder.

Treatment of psoriatic arthritis is similar to that of rheumatoid arthritis, but with some significant differences. Use of antimalarial drugs is discouraged. Toxic reactions to gold salts appear more frequently in these individuals. Triamcinolone is a corticosteroid drug commonly used for treatment of this disorder. Oral steroids may have serious side effects, but injections of steroids into individual joints may be helpful for some individuals with psoriatic arthritis. For severely affected joints, folic acid antagonists and immunosuppressive drugs, especially methotrexate (caution: highly toxic) under careful medical supervision, have relieved psoriatic lesions and joint symptoms in some individuals. Physical therapy, tailored for the individual patient, may help to keep joints from stiffening.

One of the newer agents approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis is etanercept (Enbrel, Immunex Corporation, Seattle, WA). This drug is a biologic agent that blocks the actions of a naturally occurring protein involved in causing inflammation (tumor necrosis factor).

Investigational Therapies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government website.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Tollfree: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010


For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:

Psoriatic arthritis is sometimes treated with the folic acid antagonist and anti-cancer drug, methotrexate. The Arthritis Program at the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases studied this treatment to assess what effect long-term treatment with this drug has on patients with this disorder. Methotrexate (Rheumatrex) has been an FDA approved treatment for rhuematoid arthritis since 1993.

Results of a phase II clinical trial published in 2005 show the drug alefacept (Amevive) to be effective in treating psoriatic arthritis. Amevive is FDA-approved (2003) for treating severe plaque psoriasis. The drug works by disrupting the immune system, which spurs on the disease. This can result in the loss of T-cells and possibly increase the risk of getting cancer and serious infections. More information can be obtained on the Internet at:

Human antibodies called tumor necrosis factors ( infliximed, etanercept, adalimumab) are being investigated for the treatment of psortiatic arthritis. One study currently (2005) recruiting patients to examine this type of treatment is located in Lake Success, NY, and is sponsored by the Program in Novel Therapeutics with the NS-LIJ Health System. Information is available at:

Phone: (516) 562-1370


A Rhode Island study specifically investigating etanercept (Enbrel) is currently (2005) recruiting patients. For information:

Phone: (401) 454-5959


Researchers in a Phase III clinical trial in New York City at the NYU Hospital for Joint Disease are recruiting patients for a study of adalimumab as a treatment for psoriatic arthritis. Further information is available at:

Phone: (646) 356-9400

A study of saliva of psoriatic arthritis patients, sponsored by the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, is currently (2005) being conducted. For more information, call:

Phone: (859) 323-5598 or (859) 323-5950.

To learn more about clinical trials investigating a wide-range of aspects for psoriatic arthritis, contact the Center for Rheumatology and Bone Research in Rockville, Maryland. Qualified participants will receive a free physical exam, tests, study medication and may possibly be compensated monetarily. For further information:

Phone: (301) 942-7833


The use of sulfasalazine is being tested for the treatment of seronegative spondyloarthropathies. The drug has been found to be helpful in the treatment of psoriatic arthritis, infectious arthritis, Reiter's syndrome, and ankylosing spondylitis with peripheral joint involvement. More studies are needed to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of this treatment.

The use of the drug cyclosporin A is being studied for the treatment of individuals with severe psoriatic arthritis. Researchers are studying the long-term effectiveness and tolerability of the drug in affected individuals. More research is necessary to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of low-doses of cyclosporin A in individuals with psoriatic arthritis.



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Gladman DD, Current concepts in psoriatic arthritis. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2002;14:361-6.

Barton AC, Genetic Epidemiology: psoriatic arthritis. Arthritis Res. 2002;4:247-51.

Sarzi-Puttini P, et al., Long-term safety and efficacy of low-dose cyclosporin A in severe psoriatic arthritis. Rheumatol Int. 2002;21:234-8.

Mease PJ, Etanercept: a new era in the treatment of psoriatic arthritis. Am J Manag Care. 2002;8:S181-93.

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Supporting Organizations

American Autoimmune & Related Diseases

22100 Gratiot Ave.
Eastpointe, MI 48021
Tel: (586)776-3900
Fax: (586)776-3903
Tel: (800)598-4668
Website: //

Arthritis Foundation

1330 West Peachtree Street, Suite 100
Atlanta, GA 30309
Tel: (404)872-7100
Tel: (800)283-7800
Website: //

Arthritis Society

393 University Avenue
Suite 1700
Ontario, M5G IE6
Tel: 4169797228
Fax: 4169798366
Tel: 8003211433
Website: //

AutoImmunity Community


Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center

PO Box 8126
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126
Tel: (301)251-4925
Fax: (301)251-4911
Tel: (888)205-2311
Website: //

11688 North Sage Brook Road
Oro Valley, AZ 85737-7342
Tel: (520)544-3023
Fax: (520)544-3023
Website: //

NIH/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Information Clearinghouse
One AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675
Tel: (301)495-4484
Fax: (301)718-6366
Tel: (877)226-4267
Website: //

National Psoriasis Foundation

6600 SW 92nd Avenue
Suite 300
Portland, OR 97223-7195
Tel: (503)244-7404
Fax: (503)245-0626
Tel: (800)723-9166
Website: //

Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance

P.O. Box 111
Hertfordshire, AL2 3JQ
United Kingdom
Tel: 1923672837
Fax: 1923682606
Website: //

For a Complete Report

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.® (NORD). Cigna members can access the complete report by logging into For non-Cigna members, a copy of the complete report can be obtained for a small fee by visiting the NORD website. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational treatments (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, see