Arthritis and Your Skin: How Does Arthritis Affect Your Skin?

Arthritis Skin Conditions

The term “arthritis” is defined as inflammation of the joints. But joint inflammation is only one symptom and not an official diagnosis, and the term “arthritis” actually refers to any disorder of the joints.

There are many kinds of arthritis, and they don’t just affect the joints. Many of them also cause other symptoms, including skin problems.

What Types of Arthritis Affect Your Skin?

The following are the types of arthritis that may affect your skin:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune form of arthritis that mainly affects the joints. But it also affects the skin

Some skin problems are related to the disease itself others result from using strong mediations designed to manage RA symptoms and slow down the disease’s progression.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is another autoimmune form of arthritis. Many people with PsA also have psoriasis, a condition where excess skin cells create scaly skin lesions.

Lupus

Much like RA, lupus is an autoimmune disease that begins when the immune system starts to attack its own healthy tissues. Most people with lupus have skin related problems at some point.

Scleroderma

Scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease which is classified as an autoimmune arthritis disease. Skin hardening is a visible characteristic of the disease, but it can also cause other skin problems.

Adult-Onset Still’s Disease

Adult-onset still’s disease (AOSD) is the adult form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Skin rash and skin lesions are symptoms of this condition.

Arthritis Skin Involvement

Autoimmune forms of arthritis bring about a multitude of symptoms. Some of the most common are:

  • Rheumatoid nodules with RA
  • Psoriatic plaques with PsA
  • Butterfly rash on the face with Lupus
  • Skin hardening with Scleroderma
  • Rashes and lesions with AOSD

Other arthritis conditions cause skin problems, but the ones above are the most common.

Skin involvement in autoimmune arthritis is related to the same inflammatory process as joint inflammation. Skin problems may mean a more advanced disease, or they might be a side effect of the medications used to treat these conditions.

Skin Problems by Condition

We refer to arthritis as an invisible condition because the inflammation and pain associated with the various types of arthritis are difficult to see. But sometimes, symptoms can become more visible especially when they are viable on the skin.

Here are the ways in which RA, PsA, Lupus, Scleroderma, and AOSD may affect your skin.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis

According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 35 percent of people with RA develop rheumatoid nodules. These are hard pea-size lumps that develop under bony areas, such as the elbows, fingers and ankles, and in rare cases, on the organs (i.e., the lungs).

RA nodules may be indicative of rheumatoid vasculitis (RV), a condition causing inflammation of the small and medium-sized blood vessels. RV is very rare, and research shows it is declining due to the increase of new therapies to treat RA.

RV is still, however, a very serious and life-threatening condition. The blood vessels most commonly affected are those carrying blood to the skin, nerves and internal organs.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Up to 85 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis experience skin symptoms long before they notice any joint symptoms, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Red, scaly rashes on the body are common with psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis may also cause nail problems, including nail bed separation and ingrown nails that may appear infected. It also causes swelling of the fingers and toes.

Lupus

Up to 85 percent of people with lupus will experience skin involvement. A main tell-tale sign someone has lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash across the bridge of the nose and the cheeks.

Other skin problems include sensitivity to the sun, causing flakey red spots or a purple colored rash on various body parts. Some people with lupus also develop mouth sores.

Scleroderma

Scleroderma can either affect your entire body (systemic) or only certain parts (localized). The localized type only affects the skin and not major organs, and may not always need treatment.

In some cases, however, localized scleroderma leaves skin damage. The systematic type also affects your skin and the tissues under it, including blood vessels.

Scleroderma causes hard and tight skin patches. The skin may also appear shiny, and movement may be restricted.

Some people with scleroderma also have an exaggerated response to cold temperatures. This response causes pain, numbness and color changes in fingers and toes.

Adult-onset Still’s Disease

AOSD changes a faint, salmon-colored skin rash and according to the Still’s Disease Information Center, up to 95 percent of people with AOSD have this type of rash.

These rashes come and go and may be accommodated by fevers and itchiness. They tend to be related to temperature variances, especially when the weather is warmer or during winter when workplaces and homes are heated.

Medication-Related Skin Problems

The medications to treat arthritis conditions are potent and can cause skin problems.

Medication-related skin problems include:

  • Skin Rashes – Skin rashes can point to an allergic reaction. Lowering a medication dose or stopping the medication can help manage rashes. Your doctor may also consider a corticosteroid or antihistamine, to prevent the reaction, especially if he or she feels the benefits of the arthritis medication outweigh the risk.
  • Easy Bruising – Some arthritis medications thin your skin and interfere with blood clotting, which makes it easier for you to bruise. Corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, are to blame.
  • Sun Sensitivity – Methotrexate, along with other arthritis medications, is known for making you more sensitive to the sun. If you are taking these medications, you should avoid tanning beds and wear protective clothing and use sunscreen when out in direct sunlight.

The Takeaway

Most skin problems related to arthritis are treatable, but some can be life-threatening, such as blood vessel inflammation as with rheumatoid nodules and rheumatoid vasculitis. These are also indicators of worsening disease activity and should be discussed with your doctor.

The best way to defend yourself against painful arthritis skin problems is to take all the medications your doctor has prescribed for you. Keeping your disease symptoms under control can help to minimize skin issues.

Make sure you bring any concerns about ongoing skin problems to your doctor’s attention.

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