Have you ever gone to a doctor’s appointment and left with more questions than when you arrived? Or met with your healthcare provider and felt nervous to speak up about what was bothering you? If you just did a mental hand raise, you’re not alone.
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Of the 8 million plus people in the U.S. who have psoriasis, nearly a third will develop psoriatic arthritis – a chronic, inflammatory condition that affects the skin and joints. Despite this prevalence, many patients miss the connection between their psoriasis skin symptoms — thick, red, scaly plaques — and their joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, resulting in a delayed diagnosis.
One contributing factor may be how pain – particularly women’s pain – is perceived and treated. According to the Journal of Pain , medical professionals tend to underestimate and undertreat women’s pain by recommending psychological rather than pain-relieving treatment. The Association of American Medical Colleges also notes this pain perception is even worse for women of color, particularly Black patients. Because of this pain bias and the missed connection between the skin and joints, women with psoriatic arthritis often struggle to secure a diagnosis and find proper treatment.
Dr. Elyse Love, a dermatologist based in New York, says, “If you think about psoriasis as an inflammatory condition rather than just one that affects the skin, it’s a little bit easier to understand how it impacts the joints and see how the two sets of symptoms are related.”
Though there is no known cure, conversations with a dermatologist about both skin and joint symptoms will help identify a potential connection and can aid in finding a treatment plan that benefits both skin and joints. Below, Dr. Love offers four tips for how patients can speak up about their pain points at the doctor’s office and get the care they deserve.
Making a mental note of when and where your psoriatic arthritis symptoms started can empower you to speak up about your concerns with your doctor. “For conditions like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, which may have been going on for a long time, it’s often helpful to do a 10 to 15-minute check-in with yourself to write down your whole journey,” Dr. Love says.
Think about when and where on your body you notice your skin symptoms and when you notice joint pain and swelling. Have they progressed or improved? Most importantly, what treatments have you tried, and have they made it better or worse?
“When you come prepared with this information to your appointment, it allows you to have a meaningful conversation with your dermatologist about all your symptoms,” she says.
To initiate the discussion between psoriasis and joint pain, Dr. Love suggests doing a bit of research before the appointment. Patient advocacy organizations, like the National Psoriasis Foundation, or disease education websites, like psoriasis.com, are excellent resources to help you learn more about common symptoms and how to prepare for your appointment.
“We don’t always ask about joint pain if a patient is seeing us to manage psoriasis skin symptoms,” says Dr. Love. “And sometimes patients don’t know to bring it up because they don’t know it’s related. While there is definitely an onus on us as dermatologists, it’s important for the patient to understand that there is a potential connection so they can feel empowered and broach the subject with their doctors.”
No one knows your body better than you do. It’s important to trust yourself and be your own advocate when it comes to care.
“If you feel that something is wrong, it’s important that you bring it up to your physician,” says Dr. Love. “Your concerns should be evaluated, especially if it’s something that’s progressing and worsening. So listen to yourself, and then find someone who hears you.”
Last, but certainly not least, finding a dermatologist you can trust goes a long way in being able to speak up about your entire psoriatic disease journey. “Sometimes that’s the first person that you see and sometimes that’s not,” Dr. Love says.
She adds, “We welcome second opinions within the medical community. If you’re bringing up a concern and you feel like it’s not being addressed adequately, then feel free to get a second opinion. It’s worthwhile to find a dermatologist who listens to you, works out your concerns, and explains what they’re doing in a way that gives you peace of mind.”
To learn more about the importance of speaking to a dermatologist about the potential connection between your skin and joint symptoms, click here.
This article was created by SheKnows for AbbVie.