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HomeHealth articlesrheumatoid arthritisWhat Are the Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups, and How Can They Be Effectively Managed?

Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups: Causes and Management

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This article explores the causes and effective management of rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups. Read the article to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anshul Varshney

Published At January 18, 2024
Reviewed AtJanuary 18, 2024


The chronic autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis (RA) typically affects the joints, resulting in pain, swelling, and stiffness. Flare-ups are one of the difficulties people with RA deal with since they can seriously lower their quality of life.

What Are the Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups?

Flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are periodic bouts of worsened symptoms in those with this long-term inflammatory condition. Increased joint pain, stiffness, and edema are frequent side effects of these flare-ups, which have a substantial impact on quality of life. Numerous things, including infections, stress, alterations in medication, physical trauma, dietary changes, and environmental variables, can cause RA flare-ups. Maintaining general health and joint health requires managing these exacerbations. To lessen the burden of RA flare-ups on their everyday lives, patients should adopt lifestyle changes, stress reduction measures, joint protection, and routine follow-up with medical specialists.

What Are the Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups?

The lives of persons who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are substantially influenced by this chronic autoimmune condition. Flare-ups, which are sporadic exacerbations of the symptoms of the illness, are a defining aspect of RA. Debilitating and difficult to control, these flare-ups need a thorough study of their underlying causes. This section delves into the numerous variables that contribute to RA flare-ups, illuminating the complexity of this chronic illness.

  • Infections: Whether bacterial or viral, infections have the potential to be significant RA flare-up triggers. When the body fights an infection, the immune system, which is already overactive in RA patients, might become even more activated. This heightened immune response may exacerbate the already present joint inflammation, which might result in a RA symptom flare-up. Therefore, for those who are treating RA, strict infection control procedures and prompt medical attention are crucial.

  • Stress: Physical and mental stress are known to be key contributors to RA flare-ups. Stress hormones are released by the body in reaction to stress, and this can lead to an increase in inflammation. This increased inflammation can cause more severe joint pain, edema, and stiffness in people with RA. Effective stress reduction strategies, including breathing exercises and mindfulness activities, are crucial to controlling RA symptoms.

  • Medication Modifications: A particular regimen of pharmaceuticals provided by medical practitioners frequently underlies the delicate balancing act of controlling RA. Any departure from this plan, such as stopping or changing drugs without consulting a doctor, might upset the balance set up for illness control. Inflammatory processes may reappear as a result of such disturbances, leading to flare-ups. Therefore, following the recommended treatment schedules is essential for reducing the risk of these occurrences.

  • Physical Damage: Physical damage to joints that have already been harmed by RA can trigger flare-ups. Even relatively mild injuries can cause the joint to have an overly active inflammatory response, which worsens pain, swelling, and discomfort. Therefore, people with RA need to be careful to avoid such accidents, using preventative measures and suitable joint care methods.

  • Diet and Lifestyle Decisions: It is becoming more widely understood how important diet and lifestyle decisions are for managing RA. Certain eating habits, characterized by a high intake of sugar and saturated fats, can encourage inflammation in the body and may even serve as a trigger for flare-ups. Smoking and binge drinking are other lifestyle choices that have been connected to worsening RA symptoms. A healthy diet and way of living can support medical treatments and lower the likelihood of flare-ups.

  • Environmental Elements: In the context of RA flare-ups, the impact of environmental elements such as weather changes, humidity levels, and temperature variations cannot be neglected. Many RA sufferers claim that certain weather conditions cause increased pain and symptom worsening. Environmental influences affect people differently, though, so it's important for patients to be aware of their specific triggers and take the required protective measures when necessary.

  • Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes, especially in women, might contribute to the onset of RA flare-ups. Changes in hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle or menopause may worsen joint discomfort and inflammation in some women with RA. This hormonal effect highlights the significance of taking into consideration individualized treatment strategies that take these changes into account, particularly in female patients.

  • Lack of Physical Activity: Living a sedentary lifestyle or not getting enough exercise might cause RA flare-ups. Inactivity can cause muscular weakness and joint stiffness, making it harder to adequately treat RA symptoms. Regular, safe exercise regimens can help preserve muscle strength and joint flexibility, lowering the likelihood of flare-ups.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups?

Although RA flare-ups can be upsetting, there are various treatment alternatives that can be used to control the symptoms and lessen how much of an impact they have on a person's day-to-day activities. During flare-ups, these therapy methods work to lessen pain, inflammation, and enhance joint function. Here are a few of the popular forms of treatment:

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are drugs that assist treat inflammation and discomfort. During RA flare-ups, they help reduce joint discomfort and edema. Naproxen and ibuprofen are two popular NSAIDs. However, NSAIDs should be taken with caution since prolonged use of them may have negative effects.

  • Corticosteroid: Prednisone is an effective example of a corticosteroid, which are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. They are often used during severe flare-ups to provide temporary relief. Although corticosteroids can quickly alleviate symptoms, their possible adverse effects, such as immune suppression and bone loss, make them unsuitable for long-term usage.

  • DMARDs: DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) are a family of drugs that focus on the underlying autoimmune mechanism in RA. They can lessen the frequency and intensity of flare-ups as well as limit the disease's development. Methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine are examples of common DMARDs.

  • Biologic Medications: A group of DMARDs called biologic medications specifically target immune system elements that cause inflammation. When conventional DMARDs are unsuccessful, they are frequently used. Biologics can be helpful in treating RA symptoms and reducing flare-ups, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitors, and B-cell inhibitors.

  • Physical Therapy: A healthcare professional may carry out joint aspiration when a joint is excruciatingly painful and swollen during an attack. This surgery includes draining extra fluid from the troubled joint, which releases pressure and offers instant relief.

  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapists can help people figure out how to go about doing their regular duties without putting too much stress on their joints. They provide tactics and modifications to make daily tasks easier to do while experiencing flare-ups.

  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Using heat or cold packs on the afflicted joints during flare-ups can help decrease discomfort and swelling. While cold therapy can numb the region and lessen swelling, heat therapy can increase blood circulation.

  • Rest and Joint Protection: To stop additional aggravation during flare-ups, it is essential to rest the afflicted joints. Splints and braces can be used as supportive aids to support and shield inflammatory joints.

  • Surgery: Surgical procedures may be explored in severe RA instances when joint destruction is significant and disabling. Knee or hip replacement surgery, for example, can help relieve discomfort and restore joint function.

  • Psychological Support: It's crucial to manage the emotional toll that RA flare-ups cause. People who need psychological assistance, such as therapy or counseling, can better manage the difficulties of having a chronic illness.


Flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis are an unwelcome but typical feature of having this inflammatory illness. People with RA can lessen their symptoms and enhance their general well-being by understanding the causes of flare-ups and putting them into practice. One may manage RA and lessen how much flare-ups affect everyday life by taking prescription drugs as directed, leading a healthy lifestyle, and getting medical advice when necessary.

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Dr. Anshul Varshney
Dr. Anshul Varshney

Internal Medicine


rheumatoid arthritis
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