When it comes to arthritis, many of us are under the impression that it typically hits those retirement age and older. Well, believe it or not men and women in their 30s and sometimes even younger are being diagnosed with the crippling disease. For example, psoriatic arthritis tends to hit people between 30 and 50, but those much younger and much older can get it as well. If you’ve suddenly started experiencing painful joints and aren’t able to keep up with your typical daily activities, this interview is definitely for you. Renowned rheumatologist Dr. Alvin Wells, M.D. and psoriatic arthritis patient Lisa Harris (who was diagnosed with the disease at age 35) joined me for an interview recently to discuss the common symptoms typically associated with psoriatic arthritis and a new treatment option that was just approved by the FDA in March of 2014, and is helping patients like Lisa resume their normal daily activities.
Candace Rose: What is psoriatic arthritis?
Dr. Alvin Wells: “As a rheumatologist, it is a type of arthritis that we see in patients. I know many of the patients have heard about osteoarthritis which is more wear and tear, and some people that have heard of rheumatoid arthritis. It turns out that psoriatic arthritis is not that uncommon. If you look at the numbers, it’s estimated that about 780,000 patients in the U.S. that have psoriatic arthritis. That number might be on the low side because not everybody has been seen by a rheumatologist. The way it presents, is somebody who has skin disease, so psoriasis – those red angry skin lesions that you have. Those angry cells can get into the joints causing a swelling, causing pain and causing stiffness. If left untreated it can lead to a type of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis.”
Candace Rose: Who is most often affected by the disease and what are the symptoms?
Dr. Alvin Wells: “Unfortunately psoriatic arthritis does not discriminate, so you’re never too old and you’re never too young. But if you look at the numbers it turns out that the average age of patient is between 30 and 50 years old who get it. I’ve seen older patients and I’ve seen younger patients as well. The way they’re present is with swollen joints, tender joints, difficulty with your activities of daily living. As young mothers, young workers, people like Lisa that developed arthritis, and this is how they present.”
Candace Rose: Lisa, you were diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis at 35. Can you tell us about that and how the disease has impacted your life?
Lisa Harris: “When I was 35 I started getting swelling in my fingers and my wrist was hurting around the joints. It just started in one hand and then it kind of started affecting the rest of my body. My family made me go to the doctor and they told me that it was psoriatic arthritis, which I had never heard of before. I was very surprised by what they told me. I’m 35 years old, I think arthritis is something for older people. I wasn’t able to open and close my hand, I wasn’t able to open jars or bottles, gripping a steering wheel, doing my job, things like that. My doctor put me on the study medication of Otezla® (apremilast). Within a short period of time I had noticed that the swelling was going down, that my joints weren’t hurting. I had tried several different medications before that that just didn’t help me out. Since taking Otezla®, it has definitely changed me because I’m able to do normal activities that I was never able to do before when I started getting the joint pain. I have two young girls at home, I’m able to be a cheerleading coach for my youngest, so it has definitely changed the way I feel. I feel normal now versus when I was first diagnosed.”
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about the latest treatment approved by the FDA and why it’s such big news for patients and their doctors?
Dr. Alvin Wells, MD: “As a rheumatologist this is really exciting. If you go back the last 15 years, what were the treatments that I had to offer my patients with psoriatic arthritis? We have to talk about chemotherapy, and these were pills that people would take. They’d have to come in every eight to 12 weeks to take a liver test and have their blood counts done, or they’d have to come in to the hospital for an IV infusion that we would do or a needle under the skin. You fast forward to March of this year when the FDA approved Otezla® for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis. So here you have a medication in the form of a pill that a patient can take twice a day that leads to significant improvements. Their swollen joints improve, their tendon joints improve, their pain – all of those different things that affect their lives, these patients approach a more normal living once they’re on the medication. It’s been a dramatic impact and it’s helped a lot of my patients since its approval.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional information you’d like to share with us?
Dr. Alvin Wells, MD: “Well, the first thing that I would like to say as a physician of rheumatology, I’m a big advocate, I like my patients to write down their questions so they can ask their doctor. There is a website that you can go to, it’s called Otezla.com. It talks about the disease and it talks about what other kind of treatment options are out there, so you can ask your physician about a treatment appropriate for you. Otezla.com is a nice source for patients who think they might have psoriatic arthritis.”