What to Do in the Event of an RA Flare-Up

Having a plan for an RA flare-up will help you cope and get back to normal as soon as possible.

What to Do in the Event of an RA Flare-Up

By Rheumatoid Connect StaffA Published at April 11 Views 2,783

No matter how good you are at managing your rheumatoid arthritis, you're going to have to deal with a flare-up at some point. While flare-ups are an unfortunate part of living with RA, you shouldn't live in fear of them. Accept that they might happen and always have a plan ready to help you deal with the symptoms. By being prepared, you have a better chance of shortening the duration of your symptoms so you can get back to doing the things you enjoy.

Treat the symptoms

As soon as you feel a flare-up begin, you should start treating the symptoms. Using hot or cold packs on joints may help ease the pain and hopefully reduce the amount of time you experience symptoms. Cold packs for joints can be purchased at the store or you can use ice in a bag. Single-use hot packs can also be purchased, or you could get an electric heating pad that can be used over and over again. Typically, cold packs work better because they slow the blood flow to the inflamed area, but some people find that hot packs can be soothing. Find what works for you and use it often. When using either a hot or cold pack, make sure to put a towel or some kind of barrier between your skin and the pack because both hot and cold packs can damage skin. Also, limit each use of an ice pack to no more than 20 minutes to protect your skin.

Another option for treating flare-up symptoms is over-the-counter medication. Drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can help with inflammation and pain. If you take over-the-counter medication, be sure to take it as the directions advise. In addition to over-the-counter drugs, there are prescription drugs that your doctor may provide for you. These are usually steroids or immunosuppressants. While these typically work well, they shouldn't be relied on indefinitely and should only be used if symptoms are especially bad and other methods have failed. Immunosuppressants and steroids work by suppressing your immune system, which leaves you more vulnerable to other health problems. Therefore, they are only prescribed when really needed.

Don't just sit around

When a flare-up happens, focusing on rest might seem like the right move, but you likely need a mixture of both exercise and rest, according to the Arthritis Foundation. When you sit around too much, your joints may get very stiff and you could lose range of motion. Work with a doctor or personal trainer to ensure that you’re getting the right amount and type of activity to preserve or improve range of motion in your joints. When exercising or stretching, work through the motions slowly. During a flare-up, your movement might be limited, but as the symptoms subside you should work back to where you were before symptoms worsened.

Identify the source of your flare-up

It can be hard to identify what caused your flare-ups, but you should try. It could be any number of things, ranging from stress or an infection to something you ate. If you can identify what the source of the flare-up is, you should be able to avoid it in the future. But also bear in mind that sometimes symptoms flare up for reasons you may not be able to identify.

For more on managing RA:

Did My Dinner Cause an RA Flare?
An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Can Ease Symptoms
A Cheat Sheet for Coping with Rheumatoid Arthritis Flares

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