By Penny Greenblatt as told to Kendall Morgan
I’ve been living with psoriatic arthritis for nearly 40 years. It took a very long time for me to get diagnosed properly. I was in my early 30s and my first symptom was eye inflammation. Doctors treated it as conjunctivitis. It took 7 months to go away. Then, I was told I had one type of tendonitis after another. It was 7 more years before joint pain was everywhere. I saw an internist and he said, “Oh, it’s probably a little arthritis.”
I was in my late 30s. Somebody that age shouldn’t be taking handfuls of over-the-counter pain medicine trying to find relief. Finally, I couldn’t move and went back to the doctor. They diagnosed me first with rheumatoid arthritis, and then realized it was psoriatic arthritis based on my history of psoriasis. With psoriatic arthritis, you can have all sorts of symptoms. Until a doctor puts two and two together, you won’t get the right medications and you’ll suffer.
Fortunately, today there’s a lot more medication available that can really help. There are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, and biologic agents. The options used to be much more limited. In my case, I had many years of joint damage before I got on to newer medications that make all the difference in the world. So, if you feel like you’re really struggling or “hitting a wall,” the first thing to do is make sure you’re on the right medications.
To get the right treatment and find the relief you need to move forward, you really need to see a rheumatologist with experience treating psoriatic arthritis if you don’t have one already. A primary care doctor might recognize that you have arthritis or even psoriatic arthritis. But even then, they won’t be able to help you explore your treatment options until you find one that stops your pain and the joint damage. So make finding a specialist and the right medicine your top priority.
Living with any chronic condition is a challenge. It’s important to find support from family and friends. Arthritis support groups are also a great place to go. I’m a facilitator for an Arthritis Foundation, Live Yes! Connect Groups. These groups meet virtually and provide a safe space for people with arthritis and their loved ones to share tips, make friends, and share their experiences. If you can’t find a group in your area, you can connect through social media or online with people around the country. You can find lots of helpful ideas and good information from other people who’ve been there.
While it won’t cure your arthritis, a healthy lifestyle can help you feel better. A Mediterranean-style diet is a good idea for anyone. Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and beans. Avoid processed foods and sugar. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet can help to lower your blood pressure and inflammation. It can help to protect your joints and your heart. It can help you reach or stick to a healthy weight, which can ease your joint pain.
In addition to eating well, exercise as much as you can. I do therapeutic yoga a couple of times a week. It’s much gentler and all the poses can be modified. Yoga can help with tension and flexibility. You’ll build strength and balance. I go outside and walk whenever I can. You may have some limitations, but there are plenty of things you can do. It’s important to keep moving.
When I first developed psoriatic arthritis, I was a busy single mom working full-time. I made the decision early on that I was not going to let this ruin my life. I wasn’t going to let it keep me from being active.
That said, you should listen to your doctor and your body. I eventually did have to give up tennis. I took up golf until arthritis in my spine meant that I couldn’t do that anymore. Much of that for me is a result of joint damage that occurred before I found the right medications. Thanks to treatment advances, that can more often be prevented today. I may not be able to participate in sports like I used to, but I keep myself active in the community with music, singing, and volunteer work. It’s important to keep your mind and body as active as you can.
Making the decision that this disease isn’t going to own you – that you will own it – can make all the difference.