Can we plan for a flare?

I think it is safe to say that dealing with the chaotic nature RA, especially the flares that are part and parcel of the disease, is arguably the most challenging aspect of living with RA. So knowing that that horrible, painful, exhausting flare is coming, can we do anything, in advance, to plan for it?

I would say yes…and no…

The unplannable

Let’s start with the no. This will not take long. The parts of flaring that you cannot plan for are straightforward. You cannot plan for when. So often, flares hit with little or no warning so don’t beat yourself up over not seeing signs because most of the time, there are none. Next, the severity of the flare can rarely be predicted. I have had thousands of flares in my 20+ years with RA and some are horrific while others are relatively mild. I have absolutely no idea why that is and I gave up trying to figure that out years ago. Lastly, you cannot predict how long a flare will last. Sometimes, it may be one or two days, other times one or two months. And why remains a mystery to all of us.

Some things can be planned

Despite the no’s there are plenty of yes’s. We can plan ahead in the sense that we know, 100%, unless we are in remission (lucky you), that a flare will come, at some point, no matter what. With that knowledge in hand, we can prepare to some extent. For instance, I try to have on hand all that I need to ease the discomfort. I have neoprene braces and/or compression gloves, heating pads, cold/freezer packs, pain relieving ointments, NSAIDS, analgesics, etc. ready to go. Those are the easy ones. The tougher part of planning is setting up alternatives or modifications when a flare strikes. It is rare that we have much warning of a flare so we need to be as prepared as possible. Believe it or not, when I plan a trip or an outing I try to consider how I might need to alter things if I am flaring. For instance, I am leaving for FL soon. I plan to take two small suitcases instead of one larger one, even though I am feeling fine right now and could probably handle one large suitcase. The fact is, three days from now, I could be flaring. That would mean that lugging around a large suitcase in the airport and to my destination would be painful and may well make the visit miserable from day one. So, by planning ahead, I should be able to, at least, lessen the impact of a flare. And this is just one example. Planning also means having ongoing appointments set up with your physician and RX’s ready to go to handle the flare. And I would also say there is mental planning involved with dealing with a flare. By that I mean, we have to clearly understand that flares come and go, most often with no notice, and so accept it and handle it. Denial or refusal to address it will get you nowhere and will not ease any of the effects of flaring and could even prolong the discomfort. At the same time, understand that flaring can vary in length and that is where consulting with your physician is a sound strategy. I would even suggest that you review your Flare Plan with him/her and ask for their suggestions.

So the message here is that you can indeed plan for flares. Being proactive is a great tool in managing RA and when it comes to flares it is priceless.

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