Gluten may trigger psoriatic arthritis symptoms. Read on to learn about the connection and what to do if you have psoriatic arthritis and gluten-related disorders.

What is psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and stiffness. It’s often related to psoriasis, which causes red, raised, and scaly patches on your skin.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, 30% of people who experience psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis.

If you have psoriatic arthritis, your immune system mistakes healthy cells in your joints and skin for foreign invaders. As a result, your immune system attacks those cells. This can cause joint inflammation, skin symptoms, and fatigue.

Psoriatic arthritis has no cure, but your doctor may prescribe medications to help treat your symptoms. In some cases, they may also recommend lifestyle changes. For example, if they suspect that gluten triggers your symptoms, they may advise you to avoid it.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, up to 25% of people with psoriasis may also be sensitive to gluten. When they eat foods that contain gluten, a protein found in certain grains, their immune systems overreact.

Gluten is a protein found in:

  • wheat, including ancient forms of wheat, such as spelt and Khorasan
  • barley
  • rye

Oats often contain gluten because many oats are processed alongside wheat or other gluten-containing grains. Bread products, baked goods, and pasta are common sources of gluten.

It can also be found in less obvious foods and ingredients, including sauces, salad dressings, and seasoning mixes.

If your doctor suspects you have a gluten-related disorder that triggers the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, they may advise that you follow a gluten-free diet. But before changing your diet, talk with your doctor. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks.

If you can’t tolerate gluten, you may have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. If you have it, your immune system responds to gluten by targeting the inner lining of your small intestine. It can cause various symptoms, including:

  • gas
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • damage to your small intestine
  • weight loss
  • anemia
  • joint pain

Celiac disease can potentially lead to severe complications if you don’t get treatment. Your doctor may order blood tests and perform a biopsy of your small intestine to help diagnose celiac disease. You need to be eating gluten regularly for these tests to work.

If you experience symptoms when you eat gluten but get negative results on tests for celiac disease, you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. No single medical test allows your doctor to diagnose this condition. If they suspect that you have it, they may advise you to cut foods that contain gluten from your diet for several months.

If your symptoms lessen over this period, they may encourage you to add gluten back into your diet. If your symptoms increase after you start eating gluten again, it’s a sign that you have a gluten-related disorder.

Gluten-related disorders, psoriatic arthritis, and other psoriatic conditions trigger abnormal immune responses in your body. While more research is needed, some experts believe a connection between gluten-related disorders and psoriasis exists.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that people with celiac disease had a heightened risk of experiencing psoriasis before and after their diagnosis.

According to researchers in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, several studies suggest that celiac disease and psoriasis share common genetic and inflammatory pathways.

If you have both a gluten-related disorder and psoriatic arthritis, eating gluten might trigger symptoms of both conditions. Your doctor may encourage you to avoid gluten in your diet.

You need to remove all products containing wheat, barley, or rye from your diet if you want a gluten-free diet. You also need to avoid oats that aren’t certified pure or gluten-free.

Ask your doctor or dietitian for a list of foods and ingredients commonly containing gluten. For example, malt is made from barley and is found in many prepackaged products.

You’ll need to read ingredient lists and ask about restaurant menu items. It may seem like a big change at first, but you can eat lots of foods on a gluten-free diet. For example, you can still eat:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • dried legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas
  • gluten-free grains, such as rice, corn, and quinoa
  • poultry, red meat, and seafood

You can also eat dairy products if you don’t have a dairy or lactose intolerance.

If your doctor suspects that gluten is contributing to your symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, they may advise you to cut it from your diet. But if you show no signs of gluten-related disorders, avoiding gluten might do more harm than good.

Following a restricted diet can make it harder to get the nutrients you need for optimal health. Always talk with your doctor and dietitian before cutting gluten from your diet.

Some research findings point to a connection between psoriatic arthritis and gluten-related disorders. More research is necessary to determine just how strong that link is.

Talk with your doctor if you think you might be sensitive to gluten. They may encourage you to cut gluten from your diet. Alternately, they may advise against following a gluten-free diet. The most important thing is to find a treatment plan that works for you.