Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare Ups and How to Manage Them

Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare Ups and How to Manage Them

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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a disease with many ups and downs.

Some days, you may be feeling great and fully mobile—the next day, you’re finding it difficult to do everyday tasks because your joints are stiff and you’re experiencing excruciating pain.

The unpredictability of these spikes can make living with rheumatoid arthritis that much more debilitating. It obstructs your normal routines and activities.

Here we discuss RA flares, what might cause them, and how to manage them.

You can learn more by watching the video below or keep reading below!

What Is A Flare-Up?


You won’t find a formal definition for flare-ups because there isn’t an official definition for the word.

The simplest way I define a flare-up is a spike in the symptoms you’re experiencing that affects your ability to function normally.

The definition of a flare-up is different depending on who you ask.  

Rheumatologists might suggest a flare-up is indicated by an increase in the inflammatory markers on a blood test, and/or by increased swelling (synovitis) on joint examination.

The patient might see a flare-up as a feeling of intensified pain, discomfort, and swelling. Flare-ups might occur in-between doctor visits, making it difficult for a doctor to observe.

Often, by the time patients make it into my office, the flare-up is over. The blood tests may also appear normal, making it difficult to judge how active the rheumatoid arthritis may be.

Ideally, a patient would record their symptoms and pain in a diary, written or electronic.

What Causes Flare-Ups?

Recognising the signs of an oncoming flare is the first step in managing RA flare-ups.

Unfortunately, not all flares are predictable. They may seem to come on out of nowhere and the pain can last anywhere from hours to weeks.

Some common triggers that RA patients describe include – poor sleep, overexertion of the joints, certain foods, stress, infections, alcohol and tobacco use.

Early Symptoms Of A Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Up may include:

  • Increased stiffness in joints
  • Increased fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Slight Fever

It’s best to listen to your body and observe the triggers that cause your rheumatoid arthritis to flare-up.  

Finding Relief And Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis Flares

RA flares may require alteration of the medication regime being used to treat your RA.

If you are experiencing flares, it is important to discuss this with your rheumatologist so that they can help improve control of the underlying RA.

However, you can play your part in managing RA flares.

Proper nutrition, sleep hygiene, regular exercise, and stress management techniques are part of a healthy lifestyle and self-care. These measures may reduce the frequency of rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.

Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups With Exercise

Gentle stretches and low-impact exercises will help you increase the range of motion and can reduce stiffness in your joints.

When you’re experiencing a flare-up, it’s important to move around with gentle exercise.

Listen to your body, and don’t overexert yourself.

If you’re unsure of the right exercises or have significantly reduced range of motion, seek the advice of an exercise physiologist.

An exercise physiologist can teach you modified exercises and implement a manageable routine.

Summing It All Up

Flare-ups in RA are common but can be hard to track.

It’s important to inform your rheumatologist as recurrent flares are a signal to modify treatment to better control the underlying autoimmune process and to reduce how active the RA is.

In terms of self-managing flare-ups, you should try to understand what triggers affect you. Modifying your diet or lifestyle around these symptoms may be beneficial.

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