What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare Ups?

what causes rheumatoid arthritis flare ups

If you’re one of the 1.3 million Americans who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re familiar with the painful flare ups that can make it difficult to engage in everyday life. Knowing what causes rheumatoid arthritis flare ups can help you avoid them and minimize their impact on your wellbeing.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack joint tissue, resulting in painful, stiff, and swollen joints. The most commonly affected joints are those in the hands, wrists, and feet, but many patients experience symptoms in their shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles as well.

What is a Flare Up?

Flares are a sudden surge in disease activity during which a person’s symptoms – particularly joint pain, stiffness, and swelling – are more severe. These flare ups can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis flares include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Increased stiffness in joints
  • Intense fatigue
  • Pain throughout the entire body
  • Swelling (which can cause shoes not to fit)

RA flares often impede a patient’s ability to perform everyday tasks, such as getting dressed, driving, and holding utensils. 

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare Ups?

There are several common causes of rheumatoid arthritis flare ups, but these triggers can affect people differently and are not always predictable. Determining the cause of a flare can be difficult because it could be one thing that happened a few days ago or several things that have accumulated over time. That is why many doctors recommend keeping a journal to track potential triggers and symptoms to help identify when and why your flares are happening.

Common causes of rheumatoid arthritis flare ups include:

  • Stress – Numerous studies have found that periods of high stress lead to rheumatoid arthritis flare ups. While researchers don’t have a clear picture of why this occurs, we do know that stress can trigger a host of health problems throughout the body as well as suppress the immune system, making the body more prone to infection. Reducing and avoiding stressors in your life is important for preventing flare ups. 
  • Foods – Many people with RA find that certain foods trigger a flare of symptoms, but these foods can differ for each individual. For some people it may be a food allergy, for others it could be a chemical sensitivity. Patients with RA should avoid foods that cause inflammation (such as gluten and sugar) and work with their doctor to develop a personalized nutrition plan.
  • Infection – RA medications suppress the immune system to minimize the autoimmune response, but this puts patients at a higher risk for infections. Even a common cold or the flu can trigger a rheumatoid arthritis flare because the body has a harder time fighting off the infection.
  • Overexertion – When a healthy person overexerts themselves (for example, by deep cleaning the house or going for a hike), they are sore the next day. When someone with RA overexerts themselves, it can mean days or weeks of pain and fatigue. Knowing your physical limits is important to keep from putting too much strain on your body. Getting sufficient rest is also vital as fatigue taxes the body and can cause flare ups.

Find Relief from Rheumatoid Arthritis at Anchor Wellness Center

Effective RA treatment can be accomplished through a combination of traditional and functional medicine. Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM, can help you identify triggers to prevent and minimize RA flare ups. Board Certified in Family Medicine as well as Board Certified with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra is uniquely qualified to treat both the symptoms and underlying causes of your rheumatoid arthritis. Call us today at (832) 246-8437 to schedule a consultation.

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