Friday, September 20, 2013

Arthritis Flare-Ups: Don't Ignore Them!

Once you have been diagnosed with arthritis and you have chosen, with your doctor or naturopath, a course of action, you will probably enter a 'remission' phase (I did, thanks to my homeopath), after which, you may face a 'flare-up'. In fact, most forms of inflammatory arthritis, including ankylosing spondylitis, are made of these periods when the disease is either manageable or completely absent from your body.

What is a flare-up?

Simply put, it is a phase when your arthritis symptoms get significantly worse; if you have symptoms all the time then these may become unbearable during this phase; if you don't have symptoms most of the time, those phases are when you actually have symptoms. In severe cases, your joint stiffness and pain can be so bad that daily activities become unbearable; the affected joints may also become swollen and red and, to make matters worse, you may be 'hit' by severe fatigue. These flare-ups can appear suddenly and they can be very distressful. I remember I was on holiday in Las Vegas when once night I had such sudden, severe pain in my right knee that, the following days, it was practically impossible for me to walk: I was young and I was extremely distressed by the whole situation. When my knee became swollen like a balloon (it almost felt as if it was full of liquid), I took matters in my own hands and 'resolved' my rheumatoid arthritis.

What are the causes of a flare up?

Many 'specialists' maintain that the causes are still unclear or not fully understood. What we do know, is that it can be caused by 'triggers': the main trigger is stress, of course, and this can be almost undetected by you if it's some form of mild anxiety due to factors you may be overlooking: in my case my worst flare up was caused by my mother's visiting me for a long period (it was challenging at times). I had completely overlooked it but, when my homeopath persuaded me to write a chart of my 'worst phases', including the onset of the disease, it was clear that they were all linked to my mother and my relationship with her (and various events within this relationship). This helped my homeopath find the right course of action and now, I am delighted to say, my flare ups consist only of extremely mild sensations (I cannot call it 'pain', since it's far from painful) in my knee and, equally delightfully, they last only hours and disappear for weeks. I can still link those extremely mild events to stressful events or challenging times. For other people who may not suffer from stress at all, physical traumas (falling, illnesses or even pregnancies) can be the triggers.

Emergency home measures during these phases. What works for some may not work for others, of course, but many resort to a temporary use of painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication (the latter is probably even more important); they are not going to cure the disease nor even tackle the 'root' of the problem, but these two measures may make many sufferers feel better in the short-term. Eating food which has anti-inflammatory properties is also essential. Do not ignore these phases, though, because untreated inflammatory conditions of your joints will weaken them further, some times irreversibly. Although it may be tempting to avoid movement, lack of physical activity is always worse in the long run: low-impact exercises and activities are best for those severely hit by arthritis, such as swimming. At the same time, don't exert yourself doing things which bring no benefit to your body if you find them hard to do: if house keeping has become a struggle, delegate or get a cleaner a few times a week instead.

During these phases it is always important to see your rheumatologist and check if further deterioration of the affected area has taken place. Even if you are being treated by a naturopath or homeopath for your arthritis, checking your joints during a flare up is beneficial and a great way to monitor the progress and efficacy of the treatment received.

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