Flare Action Plan: Do You Have One?

The dreaded rheumatoid arthritis flare—we hope to avoid them, but it is not always up to us. We work hard to maintain our health, stick with our treatments, and work carefully with our doctors to keep the RA quiet. But sometimes flares just happen and we have to be ready to respond.

The unpredictable RA flares

I find flares impossible to predict. While they are more frequent during the winter, as the cold takes its toll on me, they are not exclusive to these months. Sometimes I may predict a flare with a big weather change, yet other times the weather seems to make no impact. While I have not been able to find a pattern, I do know that I need plenty of rest, to manage my stress, and to eat a proper diet to minimize flares.

Everyone's RA flare action plan is unique to them

During the years I have gradually learned things that help me to get through a flare. It has taken many conversations with doctors and a ton of trial and error. My feeling is that every person with RA is different and needs to develop their own RA flare action plan. Honestly, I still experiment a little with mine to find out if I can recover faster or ease my pain.

Here’s how I take action when I have an RA flare:

  • Get to bed! In my experience, the only way to recover is to get loads of extra rest. When I flare, my body is in overdrive and it feels like I am burning up from inside. My RA is overactive in its attack on my body and I need to get sleep or just plain lay down to recover my energy.
  • Adjust my medications. In previous appointments with my rheumatologist, we have agreed on how to change my medications in the short term for a flare. In my case, that means a temporary increase in prednisone to calm the inflammation and pain. Every person is different, so it’s best to pre-plan with your doctor to determine what works best for you.
  • Update the doctor. If a flare is unusually harsh or goes on for more than a couple days, I leave a message for my rheumatologist to let him know what is happening. I explain the flare symptoms, duration, severity, and how I have been coping. If he has further instruction, I’m happy to follow it.
  • Practice soothing techniques. This is all about doing things that provide pain relief and make the RA flare hopefully a little bit more comfortable. For example, hot showers or going in a whirlpool, icing some joints, gentle massage, meditation, gentle stretches etc. I look for ways to feel a little better that are not physically challenging or will avoid aggravating my angry joints.

My advice is to speak with your doctor early and often about planning for flares. Your rheumatologist should help you to create a plan and then if you need to use it, assess its effectiveness so that you can improve upon it. They should also provide guidance on when to call and what you can expect from that call—such as emergency prescriptions, an appointment, or a phone consult.

Unfortunately, flares are a common part of life with RA. But that doesn’t mean we cannot be prepared to take action and combat the flare as best we can. In my experience, it’s all about minimizing the pain and other symptoms, and aiming for a recovery as swift as possible. The faster I take action on my flares, the faster I can recover and get back to my life.

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