Rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups can last for hours, days, weeks or even months, depending on the triggering event. The pain and stiffness of flare-ups can also vary in terms of their intensity and frequency. Treatments and lifestyle factors can have an impact on how often your symptoms emerge and how long they stick around.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition in which your body misfires against its own joints and bones, especially the small joints in your hands and feet. The disease is marked by periods of worsening symptoms (flare-ups) and times when symptoms are virtually nonexistent (remission). During a flare-up, white blood cells trigger inflammation in the synovial tissue that lines your joints, causing stiffness, swelling and tenderness.
There is no standardized definition for a rheumatoid arthritis flare. People with rheumatoid arthritis often describe their symptoms very differently. However, symptoms that can indicate a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up include:
- Stiff, swollen or tender joints that occur on both sides of the body
- Weight loss
Some flares are predictable and take place after exerting yourself too much, such as at the gym or around the house. Getting a poor night’s sleep, forgetting to take your medication, stress and/or an infection can also set off a rheumatoid arthritis flare. With these predictable flares, joints may feel stiff and sore for a few hours or the following day, but the symptoms will often subside shortly with rest and anti-inflammatory medication.
When rheumatoid arthritis flares occur unpredictably, without a known trigger, they tend to last longer, resulting in more severe symptoms. They often do not get better on their own without changing or adjusting your medications. To help prevent and manage flares, working with your doctor is important.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. The goal of rheumatoid arthritis treatment is to reduce the number of flares and minimize or prevent long-term damage to the joints. Left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to trouble performing activities of daily living.
- Arthritis Foundation. How Long Does a Flare Last? Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/more-about/how-long-does-a-flare-last. [Accessed August 4, 2020].
- Arthritis Foundation. Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis Flares. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/more-about/understanding-rheumatoid-arthritis-flares. [Accessed August 4, 2020].
- Rush University. Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis. Available at: https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/rheumatoid-arthritis-treatment. [Accessed August 4, 2020].