Take back your life

| Kathryn Jones

There’s no denying that life with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is tough. Aside from the constant pain and fatigue, everyday tasks that others take for granted – such as getting dressed in the morning or picking something up from the floor – become monumental feats when you struggle with swollen or achy joints. 

But even when you feel physically weak, you can still stay mentally strong. Don’t let PsA compromise your quality of life. You’re in control of this disease – not the other way around. The easiest way to fight back against the inflammatory response associated with PsA flares is to be as healthy as possible from the inside-out. 

Go to your rheum!

The National Psoriasis Foundation believes that anyone living with psoriatic disease should work with their health care provider and become an advocate for their own health. Even when your muscles are too stiff to move, you can still give your brain a good workout by learning everything there is to know about PsA. 

Get to know the science behind what’s leading your immune system to have that inflammatory response and be aware of the comorbidities or related health conditions associated with this disease. The more you know about the inner workings of PsA, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle symptom management.

Then make an appointment with a rheumatologist. Rheums specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. Find one who specializes in PsA and work with them on a treatment plan that will best suit your needs. Remember to come prepared with a list of questions to go through during your visit.

Say ‘sayonara’ to stress

Research has found that stress can trigger PsA flares, and at the same time, experiencing a flare can lead to stress. That’s because inflammation is the body’s way of coping with stress, according to Dr. John Koo, professor of clinical dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. Your immune system responds to injury and infection by sending out chemicals that cause inflammation to help heal a wound. 

But for people with psoriatic disease, your immune system over-responds, sending out too many of those chemicals. Koo suspects the immune system responds the same way to mental stress. So make “Keep calm and carry on” your daily mantra. Distract your thoughts by reading a book. Go outside for a nature walk and take long, deep breaths. Write your feelings down in a journal. Try a meditation app. Make an appointment with a counselor. However you choose to fight stress is nobody else’s business. 

Try a healthier diet

Some people believe eliminating certain foods from their diet, such as gluten, dairy, sugar or red meat, can reduce inflammation and therefore lower their chances for a flare. Others believe that consuming certain vitamins, herbs and supplements, such as fish oil or turmeric, can do the same. 

The truth is there is not enough scientific evidence to substantiate these claims, and the medical professional community does not know for certain how diet impacts psoriatic disease.

What the medical professional community does agree on, however, is that people with psoriatic disease should maintain a healthy weight, and that’s where diet can play an important role. Research has found that staying at a healthy weight lowers your chances of developing comorbidities or related health conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. 

So here are five easy rules to remember: 

  • Avoid processed foods. 
  • Load up on fruits and veggies. 
  • Focus on portion control. 
  • Drink lots of water. 
  • Reward yourself with a treat sometimes – you’re only human! 

Let go of those vices

Many people drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes to cope with the stress and anxiety that comes with having PsA. We know it’s hard, but try quitting.

Research has found that smoking can increase your risk of developing psoriatic disease and could make your flares significantly worse. One study led by Luigi Naldi, M.D, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) in December 1999, found a much higher risk of psoriasis in smokers. 

Naldi’s group compared people with psoriasis to people with other skin diseases, and found that as many as one in five cases of psoriasis were related to smoking. He pointed to nicotine as a possible culprit in altering the immune system and possibly skin cell growth, as well as directly affecting skin inflammation.
Heavy drinking could prevent your treatment from working and keep your disease from going into remission. It should also be noted that alcohol can have dangerous side effects when combined with certain medications, such as methotrexate or acitretin (brand name Soriatane) in women of child-bearing potential.

Catch more ZZZZ’s

Sleep disorders are so common in people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis that they are now considered comorbidities of psoriatic disease, according to Dr. Kristina Callis-Duffin, NPF Medical Board member and associate professor of dermatology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 

In fact, an NPF survey published in the April 2009 issue of JAAD – Callis-Duffin was the lead author – found that out of 400 psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis patients polled, those with PsA were most likely to report sleep disturbances. 
The National Sleep Foundation recommends sticking to a sleep schedule in which you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. It suggests keeping your bedroom at a cooler temperature and making sure your mattress and pillows are soft and supportive. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine in the hours before bedtime, and be sure to turn off your phone as studies have shown that even small electronic devices emit enough light to confuse the brain and promote wakefulness. 

When you need a little help

There is no shortage of assistive devices that can simplify your life by making daily activities easier to perform, while providing some much-needed relief to your achy joints. That said, some rheumatologists warn their patients that relying on assistive devices too much could cause muscles to shrink and weaken, so always discuss these options with your doctor before opening your wallet or pocketbook.

Get dressed with style and ease

If you have hand and finger pain that keeps you from being able to button shirts or zip jackets, look for dual-purpose tools like a combination button aid/zipper pull (www.maddak.com). They can help eliminate the tight gripping required for buttoning or zipping your favorite outfit. So who’s that good-looking person in the mirror? Why, it’s you!

Pamper those hands

Dealing with hand and finger pain? We have a solution that will fit you like a glove. Products like Intellinetix Vibrating Arthritis Gloves (www.arthritissupplies.com) combine vibration and compression. The product’s manufacturer claims it may ease joint pain and swelling if you use them for up to 30 minutes a day.

You’re going places

It’s not only important for everyone to wear their seat belt – it’s the law. But buckling up can be uncomfortable for drivers or passengers with PsA. Items like Easy Reach Seat Belt Handle (www.arthritissupplies.com) can help those with back pain avoid uncomfortable twisting by offering an extra 6 1/2 inches to grab onto.

Bend it like Beckham

Severe psoriatic arthritis can make everyday hygiene tasks painful and challenging. But there are handy toolkits out there that can assist with dressing and bathing when your range of motion is limited. For instance, the Bend Aids Hip Kit (www.arthritissupplies.com) includes a “raptor reacher” for grabbing clothing items off shelves or hangers, a shoehorn with an ergonomic T-shaped handle, a long-handled round sponge for bathing and a sock/stocking aid.

Give yourself a boost

Getting up and out of chairs can be downright difficult when you have achy knees and hips. For those of us who could use a lift every now and then, items like the Upeasy Power Seat (www.carex.com) provide a helpful boost. Look for a portable one that can be used at home or at work.

(Editor's note: See you on Monday, May 1, for Psoriatic Arthritis Action Week!)

Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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