5 Frequently Asked Questions About Rheumatoid Arthritis Flares

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Rheumatoid Arthritis Flares

How to tell when a flare is coming on, how long flares last and how you may be able to alleviate your symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease that's characterized by flares—episodes when the disease is active and causing uncomfortable symptoms. For some people, flares are infrequent and mild, while for others flares are prolonged and excruciating.

Here are five frequently asked questions (and answers) about RA flares:

Can you tell when you're going to flare?
Some patients report that they can tell when a flare is coming on. They may feel more sore than usual as well as more tired (most RA patients normally have some degree of joint pain). Joints may feel stiffer in the morning and take longer than usual to loosen up. If RA patients have been to the doctor, their blood work may let them know a flare is in the works because inflammatory markers may rise. Depression may set in as a feeling of wellbeing is replaced by fatigue and twinges that signal oncoming pain.

How long does a flare last?
Flares can last anywhere from a few days to months, or however long it takes you to find a medication that keeps them under control.

What causes flares?
You might find your arthritis flaring after you experience overexertion, an infection anywhere in your body, a period of extreme stress or a change in medication. But you also might find yourself flaring for no apparent reason. The reasons behind flares aren't always clear.

How can you stop a flare?
You may not be able to completely stop a flare, but you can reduce its severity. Medication is important to control your symptoms and prevent the joint damage that inflammation causes. There are several types of medications used to treat RA:

  • Corticosteroids, which are used for short-term treatment to reduce inflammation.
  • NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These relieve pain but do not alter the course of the disease.
  • DMARDs (Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs). These slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and reduce joint damage.

It is important to seek advice from your healthcare provider as early as possible when a flare occurs.

How can I live my life during a flare?
Flares can make everyday life difficult, especially if the flare is extended or particularly severe. Make sure to get adequate rest, as well as relaxation to relieve stress. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice for treatment during a flare and how to relieve symptoms. If you’re having a difficult time, remember to ask friends and family for help.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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