By Penny Greenblatt, as Kendall Morgan was told
I have lived with psoriatic arthritis for almost 40 years. It took a long time before I was properly diagnosed. I was in my early 30s and my first symptom was an eye infection. Doctors treated it as conjunctivitis. It took 7 months to go away. Then I was told I had tendonitis after tendonitis. It was another 7 years before the joint pains were everywhere. I saw an internist and he said, “Oh, it’s probably a little arthritis.”
I was in my late 30s. Someone that age shouldn’t be taking handfuls of over-the-counter painkillers to find relief. Eventually I couldn’t move and went back to the doctor. They first diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis and then realized it was psoriatic arthritis based on my history of psoriasis. All sorts of symptoms can occur with psoriatic arthritis. Until a doctor puts two and two together, you won’t be on the right medication and you’ll be suffering.
Fortunately, there are many more medications available today that can really help. There are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, conventional disease-modifying anti-inflammatory drugs, and biologics. In the past, the options were much more limited. In my case, I had joint damage for many years before moving on to newer medications that are making a difference in the world. So if you feel like you’re really struggling or “running into a wall,” the first thing to do is make sure you’re taking the right medication.
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 already have one. A family doctor might recognize that you have arthritis or even psoriatic arthritis. But even then, they can’t help you explore your treatment options until you find one that will stop your pain and joint damage. So make finding a specialist and the right medication your top priority.
Living with a chronic illness is challenging. Finding support from family and friends is important. Arthritis support groups are also a great resource. I’m a moderator for an Arthritis Foundation, Live Yes! connect groups. These groups meet virtually and provide a safe space for people living with arthritis and their loved ones to exchange tips, make friends, and share their experiences. If you can’t find a group near you, you can connect with people across the country through social media or online. You can find lots of helpful ideas and good information from other people who have been there.
Although it won’t cure your arthritis, living a healthy lifestyle can help you feel better. A Mediterranean diet is a good idea for everyone. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans. Avoid processed foods and sugar. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet can help lower your blood pressure and inflammation. It can help protect your joints and heart. It can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight, which can relieve your joint pain.
In addition to a good diet, you should exercise as much as possible. I do therapeutic yoga a few times a week. It’s much smoother and all poses can be modified. Yoga can help with tension and flexibility. You build strength and balance. I go outside and take walks whenever I can. You may have some limitations, but there are many 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 not to let it ruin my life. I wouldn’t let that stop me from being active.
However, you should listen to your doctor and your body. At some point I had to give up tennis. I started golf until arthritis in my spine meant I couldn’t do it anymore. Much of this, to me, is the result of joint damage that occurred before I found the right medication. Thanks to advances in treatment, this can often be prevented today. I may not be able to exercise as much as I used to, but I keep myself active with music, singing and volunteering in the community. It’s important to keep your mind and body as active as possible.
Making the decision that this disease won’t own you – that you will own it – can make all the difference.