Can Psoriasis Be Painful?
7 Tips for Explaining Psoriatic Arthritis to Others
Talking openly about your condition isn't easy, but it will help friends and family understand how they can better support you.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD
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Psoriatic arthritis can easily become the elephant in the room. You may find yourself trying to figure out how to explain the condition to people close to you. Or friends and loved ones may be wondering how to tactfully ask you about it.
The common symptoms of psoriatic arthritis — joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation — can make it hard to keep social plans with others. But discussing the disease with them isn't easy either.
The answer? Just be brave and do it, says Rebecca Payne, 49, of Portland, Oregon. Educating others about this condition is important, especially “if someone has noticed you have it or it’s obvious," she says.
Payne developed psoriasis when she was 13 and psoriatic arthritis when she was 33. Her psoriatic arthritis affects her hips, hands, knees, neck, and feet.
She says that taking Enbrel (eternacept), one of the biologic medicines recommended for psoriatic arthritis, has helped control many of her symptoms.
Still, she's had to give up running to protect her knees. She continues to hike and tries to remain as active as her symptoms allow.
As a former outreach chairman for the Portland division of the National Psoriasis Foundation, Payne has had plenty of experience talking about psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. But she's sympathetic to the fact that other people might not be as comfortable as she is addressing the topic head-on.
If you're new to the process of talking about the condition, Payne recommends you find a person you're sure will be sympathetic, and practice telling them about it.
Here are other steps you can take to become more at ease explaining psoriatic disease to others:
- Educate yourself.Once you fully understand psoriasis, autoimmune diseases, and arthritis, you'll be in a better position to convey what you’re dealing with. Payne points out that even your sharpest pals might have a hard time understanding what an autoimmune disease is.
- Explain that it’s not contagious.Though most people understand that arthritis is not contagious, psoriasis can sometimes be confusing. Underscore that “it can’t be spread to others,” advises Alison Ehrlich, MD, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at The George Washington University, Medical Faculty Associates in Washington, DC.
- Be honest about how you feel.Psoriatic arthritis symptoms are often worse first thing in the morning. “They may last for many minutes to hours before someone feels flexible and comfortable enough to partake in daily activities,” says Joseph Merola, MD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School co-director of the Center for Skin and Related Musculoskeletal Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Discuss openly the times of day when you feel best.”
- Don't keep your treatment a secret.If people are curious, let them know what steps you're taking to manage the condition. Let them know if you've prepped for any activities you have together — for example, by taking a medication to control pain and inflammation.
- Suggest social alternatives.When symptoms force you to change plans, have a fun alternative in mind. If an early-morning walk isn't a good social option for you, for example, suggest a late-afternoon get-together.
- Give details about any help you need.If you’re asking for changes in the way things are done at work or at home, be as specific as possible. This might mean doing some research in advance to find out what kinds of adjustments would make your workspace or home environment more comfortable for you.
- Provide resources.If friends and family members want to learn more, Dr. Ehrlich recommends the National Psoriasis Foundation website for educational material.
Video: Psoriatic Arthritis - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim
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