Sausage-like fingers or toes; a red scaly skin rash; pitted nails; and stiff, painful, swollen joints – these are some of the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis (PsA), which Arthritis Ireland is highlighting in a new health awareness campaign.
The patient organisation and research charity is looking to inform people about the autoimmune condition which affects thousands of people in Ireland. It is estimated that up to one-third of people with psoriasis may also develop psoriatic arthritis.
As part of the campaign, the charity is undertaking a major survey on the impact of the disease on people’s lives.
Psoriatic arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis that can cause pain, swelling and sometimes damage to any joint in the body. It is not known exactly what causes the disease, although research has shown that genetic and environmental factors can play a role. It can affect people at any age.
Dr Laura Durcan, consultant rheumatologist at Beaumont Hospital, has recorded an information talk about PsA, which is available online.
“An early diagnosis is key to ensuring that patients have a normal life,” she said, “like having a job, a family, that the person can play sport and socialise. In order to achieve this, it is vital that patients are seen sufficiently early, before irreversible damage sets in.”
Psoriatic arthritis can cause permanent joint damage quickly when not treated. Once damage occurs, it is not reversible and can cause significant pain.
“This is a systemic condition, meaning that over time, inflammation can affect multiple joints and even organs. However, research has confirmed that treating PsA early and aggressively often improves the long-term outcomes and significantly reduces damage,” stated Dr Durcan.
Siobhan Donohoe (43) from Kilkenny first began to experience symptoms after the birth of her children, Ted (12) and Hannah (10).
Feeling weak, fatigue, anxiety, a red rash on her hand, amongst other symptoms, the busy PR consultant initially put these experiences down to juggling motherhood with the stress of a busy work schedule.
When she was diagnosed, Donohoe wondered, “What have I done to get an old person’s disease?”
“When you’re sick,” she said, “people don’t see that. You look grand from the outside, but you’re constantly battling pain and you don’t know when it’s going to flare up, how it’s going to happen or where it’s going to take you.
“It hits you with a bang. You have no energy, you’re in pain at night time, while you’re asleep the pain wakes you up, you can’t turn from one hip to another in the bed, you get up and you’re aching and stiff all morning,” she explained.
Arthritis Ireland is encouraging people to educate themselves about the symptoms of the condition and to be proactive self-managers if living with PsA.
“If you feel there is something going wrong in your body, seek medical advice,” said Brian Lynch, head of communications and advocacy at Arthritis Ireland. “Psoriatic arthritis is an usual condition because it can look very different from one person to the next. In some people, symptoms develop quickly and can be quite severe, while in others, they take weeks or months.”
The charity has developed a suite of education resources to inform people about the condition, including the online information talk with Dr Laura Durcan, as well as case study videos featuring Siobhan Donohoe and barrister, Mark Finan.
“We are asking people with psoriatic arthritis to share their experiences of the condition by completing the survey. It takes 10 minutes to do and will give us very valuable information on the impact of the disease on people’s lives,” said Lynch.
The survey can be undertaken on the Arthritis Ireland website.
Siobhan Donohoe said that she changed her lifestyle and her attitude to her health after getting a diagnosis.
“My life turned around, with the help of exercise, diet and the right medications. I treasure my energy and the good days, but remain mindful that I live with a chronic disease.
“Take all the support you can,” she advised. “I need to have the life jacket on before I can take care of anyone. Self-care is so important. If I’m not well and down, the whole house is not well. It’s sometimes selfish, but I need to be right first.”
Further resources and information about psoriatic arthritis are available on the Arthritis Ireland website www.arthritisireland.ie.