May 1, 2020

Understanding Lupus Flares

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Not everyone with lupus will have the same experience. However, just about everyone who has lupus will have flare-ups or “flares,” which is when symptoms are more severe than usual.

Lupus flares can affect the skin, joints, and overall health. Knowing what triggers flares and understanding early warning signs is key to managing them. It is essential to educate yourself about all aspects of this disease.

Keep reading for more information about how to diagnose flares, the symptoms, and how to manage them.

What is Lupus?

When trying to understand lupus flares, it’s crucial to understand the disease itself. Lupus is a quintessential autoimmune illness, bringing challenges for both patients and doctors in diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring.

An immune regulation problem results in the production of abnormal immune complexes that can travel almost anywhere in the bloodstream, depositing in tissues and triggering inflammation. As a result, lupus can become active throughout the body, from the skin to the musculoskeletal system to organs.

[If you have recently been diagnosed with lupus check out these six tips!]

How is it diagnosed?

Lupus presents itself in many different ways, and therefore, diagnosis can be tricky. Symptoms of lupus can mimic other health problems, so a rheumatologist must rule out other illnesses before making an official diagnosis. It is based on clinical imaging tests as well as laboratory and biopsy results.

There is no substitute for an experienced rheumatologist who will be looking at the whole picture. Before your appointment, be prepared to answer questions the doctor may have for you, including:

  • When did symptoms begin, and do they come and go?
  • Does anything trigger the symptoms?
  • Do any of your immediate family members have lupus?
  • Are there any medications or supplements being taken?

What causes flares?

One of the hardest things about living with lupus is coping with unpredictability. If you have lupus, you will go through periods when your disease seems to be still and periods when it’s highly active, and your symptoms worsen.

These periods are known as lupus flares. Although there is no way you or your doctor can completely predict or prevent a lupus flare, you can identify and try to avoid triggers in an attempt to reduce your risk. Some of the flare triggers include:

  • Ultraviolet rays from the sun or fluorescent light bulbs
  • Sulfa drugs, Penicillin, and other antibiotic drugs.
  • An infection, a cold, or a viral illness.
  • An injury, particularly traumatic injury.
  • Emotional stress, such as a divorce, illness, or death in the family.
  • Anything that causes stress to the body, such as surgery, physical harm, pregnancy, or giving birth.
  • Exhaustion.

What are the symptoms?

Lupus symptoms can come on suddenly or develop slowly, not to mention they can be temporary or permanent. The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Headaches and confusion.
  • Joint stiffness, swelling, and pain.
  • Butterfly-shaped facial rash appearing on cheeks and nose.
  • Skin lesions caused by sun exposure sensitivity.

Lupus flares and lifestyle.

The best thing you can do to manage lupus and lupus flares is to live a healthy lifestyle. It is essential to stay active, eat a healthy diet, stay out of the sun, and avoid smoking. Other things you can do include:

  • Stay well-rested: work hard to manage your schedule to avoid becoming stressed, overworked, or overtired.
  • Manage stress: some stress is unavoidable, and having a chronic disease is stressful by itself, but people with lupus have to avoid putting themselves in stressful situations when possible. Learn some techniques that help you manage your stress, such as breathing or yoga. Meditation is also an excellent way to reduce stress and decrease your risk for a flare.
  • Avoid sunlight when possible: if you have to be in the sun, use a sunscreen with a high sun protection, and wear protective clothing. Make sure your sunscreen protects against all UV rays. Remember that halogen and fluorescent lights also give off ultraviolet light, so avoid prolonged exposure to them as well.
  • Be careful with certain foods: avoid certain foods that contain substances that may increase inflammation and trigger a flare. Some people may have reactions to garlic, while others have issues with alfalfa sprouts.
  • Visit your doctor: to maintain your health, make sure you stick to scheduled visits and talk with your doctor if symptoms seem to be getting worse.
  • Take your medications: never start or stop a medication without checking with your doctor first. Many medications, including some over-the-counter drugs, can trigger lupus flares. Talk to your doctor before taking any new medication, supplement, or herbal treatment.

How to manage a flare.

Many people with lupus eventually become accustomed to their body’s rhythms enough to sense when a flare is coming. At these times, you can rest and use stress management techniques, but once actual symptoms of a flare begin, you shouldn’t try to handle it on your own. Some common flare signs include:

  • New or worsening rash.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Headache or dizziness.
  • Fever.
  • Joint and muscle pain.
  • Swelling in legs.
  • Sores or ulcers in the mouth.

If you think a flare is starting, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

The best way to manage lupus and avoid flares is to educate yourself about the disease and follow these simple guidelines: Listen to your body, learn what your triggers and early warning signs are, stick to your treatment plan, and make your health a priority.

At Carolina Arthritis, we believe our patients must understand their diagnosis and be completely comfortable with the treatment. While there is no single treatment for lupus that suits everyone, the doctors at Carolina Arthritis are well trained in lessening ongoing symptoms and enhancing a patients’ quality of life.

If you’re ready to tackle your lupus and improve your quality of life, contact us right away to schedule an appointment.