Is it possible to predict a flare-up? Can you ease them in some way, or even prevent them from occurring altogether? Maybe you have overcome a number of flare-ups, or perhaps it is new to you. Elsa considers how to approach the concept of flare-ups.
In the case of rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the disease increases in intensity during certain periods. There is often no obvious cause or explanation as to why the disease flares up in this way, even if it can sometimes be associated with stress or other factors.
A flare-up means that, even if you feel good—or better—for a long period of time, you may begin to notice the re-emergence of symptoms. Pain and fatigue, in addition to malaise, are the most common symptoms to occur during a flare-up.
How long does a flare-up last?
A flare-up can persist anywhere between a few days and several months. Flare-ups are often described as waves, where the intensity of the flare peaks before fading and eventually, disappearing entirely.
From time to time, the symptoms can present themselves in different ways. Pain and fatigue can influence your mood, the quality of your sleep, and your ability to perform daily chores and activities.
If the flare-up is prolonged or particularly intense and significantly impedes your ability to lead your daily life as usual, this could mean that your disease is changing and that you may need to consider alternative anti-rheumatic treatments. In that case, you should contact your rheumatologist. The aim is to always be in remission, to live life free from symptoms or to have as few and mild symptoms as possible, without experiencing flare-ups.
Is it possible to predict when a flare-up is about to occur?
Sometimes you can predict a flare-up. Maybe you notice that you have been stressing out, sleeping worse, been ill, or that you have experienced an adverse life event. These factors can increase the risk of a flare-up. However, in most cases they are unpredictable.
An impending flare-up can make itself felt in many different ways. It can be a general sense that something is not right. You may suffer from chills, fever, fatigue, or other symptoms that indicate a flare-up is on its way.
Can I prevent or ease a flare-up?
Beyond prioritising self-care as much as possible to prevent and safeguard against a flare-up, it is hard to completely prevent it. However, it is possible to learn to recognise the signs of an approaching flare-up and thus increase the chances of easing it in both duration and intensity.
Monitoring your wellbeing makes it easier to keep track of your condition over time. By identifying patterns and signs of a flare-up, you can learn to take precautions before it gets out of control.
In the Elsa app, you can log pain, fatigue, or swelling and numbness in your joints on a daily basis or whenever necessary. Mapping the characteristics of your flare-ups can help you to determine when something deviates from the symptoms you normally experience, and can even provide you with a long-term overview of your wellbeing.
Can I experience a flare-up even if I take my medication?
Even if the goal is to always be in remission, flare-ups are part of the disease. It means that if you take care of yourself and take your medication as you should, you could still experience a flare-up. Nevertheless, different medications can have different effects for different people and at different stages in the disease. Therefore, it is wise to consult your rheumatologist if you experience a persistent or severe flare-up, so that you do not suffer from flare-ups that can otherwise be prevented.
How can I manage a flare-up?
If, or when, a flare-up occurs, it can be useful to have strategies at hand to manage it. Pain can be a nuisance and it is easy to feel down in such a situation, even when the pain itself is not dangerous.
By evaluating which methods of pain relief work for you, you can reduce the impact this discomfort has on your life. Painkillers can be used when needed, but you can also try to alleviate pain using a heating pad, a cool compress, a massage, orthotics (which offer protection for your joints), and physical activity.
It is important to be as active as possible and not let the pain take control. Reduced activity can result in a loss of strength, decreased coordination, and other physical complications. Pain instinctively makes us want to protect the parts of our body that are hurting, and in doing so we unintentionally place greater strain on other body parts, resulting in more pain. Furthermore, increased physical activity improves sleep, but also weight control which is of great importance if you have pain in your legs and knees.
Be sure to keep your mind occupied as well, for example, by watching a film, reading a book or gardening. In doing so, you are actively dedicating yourself to take control of your pain!