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How long does a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up last?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on July 7, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

There is no way to know how long an arthritis flare will last. A mild flare may last a few days and go away on its own. A severe flare may last longer.

In some cases, a flare is the first sign that your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is getting worse. For some, a flare may go away sooner when your doctor changes or adjusts your medication.

Some flares are caused by a flare trigger. The trigger could be too much exercise or too much stress. Flares that follow a trigger tend to be shorter. Flares that come out of the blue tend to last longer. Any flare that lasts more than a few days should be reported to your doctor. It is a good idea to keep track of your flares, so you can let your doctor know how often they happen and how long they last.

A flare means your arthritis symptoms get worse. You may wake up with:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue

Since RA affects more than just your joints, you may have fatigue or even a fever during a flare. Common RA symptoms include:

  • Aching
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness and swelling of more than one joint on both sides of your body

Common joints affected are the joints of your fingers and wrists and knees.

The medical term for a flare is an exacerbation. The opposite of a flare is when your symptoms are under good control. If you are feeling well without symptoms, it is called a remission.

The best thing to do when you have a flare is to rest, put heat or ice on your joints and take an over-the-counter pain reliever. If these remedies don’t work or your symptoms are getting worse, your doctor may want to do some imaging studies of your joints to make sure your RA is not progressing.

Flares are a normal part of having RA. Frequent or severe flares mean you need to work with your doctor to get your RA under better control.

Some things you can do to keep your RA from getting worse include:

  • Not smoking
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
References
  1. The Arthritis Foundation. Coping With an Arthritis Flare. April 2021. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/managing-pain/pain-relief-solutions/coping-with-an-arthritis-flare. [Accessed May 29, 2021].
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). July 2020. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/rheumatoid-arthritis.html. [Accessed May 25, 2021].
  3. Chauhan K, Jandu JS, Goyal A, et al. Rheumatoid Arthritis. StatPearls [Internet]. 2020 Nov. 5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441999/

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