An Overview of Psoriatic Arthritis Triggers

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis affecting approximately seven out of every 100,000 Americans. PsA primarily affects the joints and the skin. It can be painful and debilitating and its symptoms can be set off by any number of disease triggers.

What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) primarily affects people with psoriasis, an inflammatory condition where skin grows too quickly and forms red patches and silvery scales. Most people with PsA are diagnosed with psoriasis first, but it is possible to have joint symptoms before skin lesions occur.

psoriatic arthritis v. psoriasis
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

The main symptoms of PsA are pain, stiffness, and swelling in one or more joints of the body. If severe, PsA will affect the fingers, toes, and spine. Both psoriasis and PsA are known for flare-ups—periods of high disease activity—and periods of remission, where symptoms are mild or mostly gone. 

There are no cures for PsA or psoriasis, but both can be treated and managed. Treatment involves focusing on controlling symptoms and preventing joint damage. PsA can cause disability and complications if not managed.

Understanding Triggers

The causes of psoriasis and PsA are unknown. Researchers think a combination of genes and exposure to external triggers will cause someone to develop PsA. Approximately 40% of people with PsA have at least one close family member with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. Many people with psoriasis will go on to develop PsA but having genetic risk factors does not mean someone will necessarily have psoriasis or PsA.

Some of the same external triggers are also responsible for disease flare-ups and worsening symptoms. 

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Dealing with psoriasis skin symptoms is stressful enough and most people with PsA report skin outbreaks during stressful times. One 2015 study out of the United Kingdom found people with PsA were more prone to increases in joint pain, psoriasis plaques and/or fatigue when dealing with the psychological aspects of their disease.   


Certain illnesses, such as strep throat or the flu, can worsen symptoms in people with PsA. People with HIV and other conditions that compromise immune function can experience flare-ups of symptoms when their other conditions are not properly managed.

Skin Trauma

Skin trauma includes anything from bruises, cuts, scrapes, infections, sunburns, and tattoos. Skin trauma may also trigger joint symptoms as well. The link between injury and flares is related to abnormal inflammatory responses.  

People with PsA can prevent skin trauma by wearing gloves when cooking, gardening, or shaving. Wearing long sleeves when performing activities that may cause injury is also a good idea. Wearing sunscreen can prevent sunburns.

Drug Interactions

Certain medications, such as those for treating bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, heart disease, and malaria can trigger PsA symptoms. Drug interaction concerns should be discussed with a treating physician.

Alcohol and Cigarette Smoke

Both alcohol and smoking can worsen PsA and psoriasis symptoms. Quitting smoking may help to clear skin and improve overall health.

Alcohol can also interfere with the effectiveness of medications for treating PsA. One study reported in the International Journal of Dermatology confirms alcohol can exacerbate psoriasis symptoms. This report also suggests an increase in alcohol-related deaths in people with psoriasis, as compared to those without the condition.


Diet can either worsen PsA symptoms or improve them. Certain foods, including gluten, sugar and processed foods, may act as PsA flare triggers.  

There is also evidence some foods can reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation-combating foods include omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, olive oil, flaxseed and walnuts and colorful vegetables loaded with high levels of antioxidants, including carrots, spinach, kale, blueberries, and strawberries.

Cold and Dry Weather

Both cold and dry weather can trigger PsA symptoms. Dry weather can dry out skin and increase skin symptoms. PsA pain, stiffness, and swelling may increase with cold, damp weather and barometric pressure changes.

While several studies have found a link between arthritis pain and changes in weather and barometric pressure, other researchers conclude there is no link between back pain and rain, temperature, humidity, or air pressure.

A Word From Verywell

There is no cure for psoriatic arthritis and flare-ups can be so painful they interfere with daily life. The best way to lessen the impact of PsA is to proactively manage symptoms, control inflammation, and avoid triggers.

Triggers of PsA are not the same for everyone. Therefore, it is important for each person with this condition to know their own triggers and how to manage these to avoid disease flare-ups. 

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Liu JT, Yeh HM, Liu SY, Chen KT. Psoriatic arthritis: Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment. World J Orthop. 2014;5(4):537-43. doi:+10.5312/wjo.v5.i4.537

  2. National Psoriasis Foundation. About Psoriatic Arthritis.

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Genetics Home Reference. Psoriatic arthritis.

  4. Moverley AR, Vinall-collier KA, Helliwell PS. It's not just the joints, it's the whole thing: qualitative analysis of patients' experience of flare in psoriatic arthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2015;54(8):1448-53. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kev009

  5. National Psoriasis Foundation. Protect yourself from a nasty flu season.

  6. Arthritis Foundation. Managing Psoriatic Arthritis Flares.

  7. Cassano N, Vestita M, Apruzzi D, Vena GA. Alcohol, psoriasis, liver disease, and anti-psoriasis drugs. Int J Dermatol. 2011;50(11):1323-31. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2011.05100.x

  8. Ford AR, Siegel M, Bagel J, et al. Dietary Recommendations for Adults With Psoriasis or Psoriatic Arthritis From the Medical Board of the National Psoriasis Foundation: A Systematic Review. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(8):934-950. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.1412

  9. Harvard Medical School. Foods that fight inflammation.

  10. Harvard Medical School. Does weather affect arthritis pain?

Additional Reading
  • American College of Rheumatology. Psoriatic Arthritis.

  • Ford AR, Siegel M, Bagel J, et al. Dietary Recommendations for Adults With Psoriasis or Psoriatic Arthritis From the Medical Board of the National Psoriasis Foundation: A Systematic Review. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(8):934–950. DOI: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.1412

  • Harvard University. Foods that fight inflammation.

  • Liu JT, Yeh HM, Liu SY, et al. Psoriatic arthritis: Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment. World J Orthop. 2014 Sep 18; 5(4): 537–543. DOI: 10.5312/wjo.v5.i4.537.

  • McAlindon T, Fomrmica M, Schmid CH, et al. Changes in Barometric Pressure and Ambient Temperature Influence Osteoarthritis Pain. The American Journal of Medicine (2007) 120, 429-434. DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.07.036.

  • Moverley AR, Vinall-Collier KA, and Helliwell PS. It's not just the joints, it's the whole thing: qualitative analysis of patients' experience of flare in psoriatic arthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2015 Aug;54(8):1448-53. DOI: 10.1093/rheumatology/kev009.

  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Psoriatic Arthritis.

  • National Psoriasis Foundation. Statistics

  • Psoriasis Speaks. Causes of Psoriasis.