Lupus is an autoimmune disease that leads to rotating periods of flare-up and periods of remission. During a flare, the disease is active and producing worsening symptoms.
What is a flare?
Your immune system is designed to fight off foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and other germs. During a lupus flare, your body attacks your own tissue as if it’s a foreign invader. It creates antibodies to destroy that healthy tissue, causing pain, inflammation, and serious damage throughout the body. The immune system in patients who have lupus can attack their skin, joints, blood, heart, kidneys, and lungs.
Symptoms of a lupus flare-up
In some cases, you might not have any symptoms at all during a flare. It’s important that those with lupus see their provider often for monitoring to identify flares early and prevent damage to internal organs and other tissue because of the chance that a flare will occur without producing symptoms.
In most cases, though, you’ll experience worsening symptoms during a lupus flare. Those symptoms include dry eyes, a rash, headaches, unexplained fever, memory loss, confusion, ulcers in the nose or mouth, frothy urine, joint pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, and swelling of extremities. Weight loss is also common. Most people will experience symptoms during a flare-up, but very few will experience all of the symptoms listed here. Journaling how you feel each day can help you catch a flare-up and intervene early.
What causes a lupus flare?
While you may be genetically predisposed to lupus, external triggers bring on the illness and flare-ups. These external factors include physical and emotional stress, usually caused by life events like:
- the loss of a loved one
- divorce or relationship strain
- the loss of a job or income
- pregnancy or childbirth
- recent surgery
- an accident or serious injury
- a traumatic event
- a recent infection
- exhaustion/lack of adequate sleep
Extended exposure to the sun without protection can also trigger a lupus flare.
How to prevent lupus flares
Because external factors play such an important role in the development and management of lupus, controlling those external factors can dramatically improve the quality of life for those suffering from this disease.
Steps you can take to prevent lupus flares include:
- get plenty of rest
- see a therapist to help you work through stress
- adopt healthy coping mechanisms for stress
- eat a healthy diet and take vitamins recommended by your provider
- avoid direct sun exposure by wearing adequate clothing and sunscreen
Some factors are more difficult to control, like having surgery or being in an accident. If there are external risk factors occurring in your life, notify your provider so he or she can provide recommendations for prevention, identification of a flare, and timely intervention.
How to identify a flare
Identifying a lupus flare can be challenging. After all, joint pain and fatigue are common in healthy people, too. You might experience some classic lupus symptoms all the time for unrelated reasons. Because of this, it’s recommended that you track your daily signs and symptoms and share that information with your provider 1) during your routine appointments, and 2) if you notice signs of a flare-up.
You can use a smartphone app, a simple notebook, or this impact tracker to track your symptoms over time and communicate them with your healthcare team. The Lupus Foundation offers this Lupus Flare Plan Template to help you and your provider create a plan for identifying and managing future flares.