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Taking Care of Arthritis Flares

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks connective tissues and damages joints.

Throughout the course of RA, episodes of worsening pain, stiffness, and swelling —  called flares of the disease —  may occur. If they're not treated, they can eventually lead to a lack of mobility and debilitating pain.

Long-term benefits

Responding appropriately to these flares can ease your pain and help you stay independent.

Determining the cause of flares can be difficult, but you can take steps to address them.

It's also important to discuss a plan of action for dealing with flares with your health care provider, so you know what steps to take in an acute situation.

Ideas for coping

Depending on the severity of your condition, your provider may offer these suggestions:

  • Balance periods of activity with periods of rest. Getting more rest during a flare can relieve symptoms, but you still should put your joints through their full range of motion to keep them from freezing up or becoming stiff. The Arthritis Foundation offers a Program for Better Living Series that can start you on an exercise program and help you manage your condition.

  • Spend time doing relaxation exercises. Find those that work best for you, and practice the techniques so you're ready to use them when needed.

  • When you're still, but not experiencing a flare, wrap a towel around a hot water bottle or a hot pack and place it on the painful area.

  • Apply a cold pack to the painful area during the flare. Cold numbs tissues and reduces inflammation and swelling.

  • Ask if you can take an over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen, to relieve pain.