Lupus is a lifelong condition the very brave learn how to navigate. It is classified as an autoimmune disease because of the process in which your own body’s immune system begins to confuse itself with foreign invaders and attacks. Over time those who are diagnosed learn to manage symptoms, delay flares, and slow down disease progression. Lupus is, to say the least, complex and managing it is a heroic endeavor. An endeavor which requires love and grace for yourself, patience, and a good amount of discipline.
The goal of treatment is to have remission, low disease activity, and prolonged times between flares. In view of this, prevention of flares is critical to ensure better long term disease outcomes. Depending on their severity medical interventions can be necessary when flares arise. They can lead to healthcare cost increase, work and productivity decrease, and performing activities of daily life may be impacted.
What does a Lupus flare up feel like?
Well, you begin to feel worse than usual and your otherwise controlled symptoms will resurface. Sometimes you may not experience any symptoms at all and only specific laboratory tests will tell you that a flare is occurring. Some commonly experienced signs of flare up are:
- flu-like symptoms (with or without fever)
- muscle and joint pains
- Skin rash
What can cause flare ups?
Sometimes lupus flare ups can occur without a reason as the condition follows the path of progression similar to most other chronic diseases; this is the autoimmune nature of it. A response to single or multiple environmental exposures which trigger a flare. Some of these include but aren’t limited to:
- Over exertion and lack of rest
- Inadequate rest; sleep is king for lupus management
- Both emotional and physical stress
- Hormonal changes
- Exposure to UV light
- Poor Diet
- Injury or trauma
- Discontinuing your lupus medications or taking medications for other conditions
This feels like a lot to manage and avoid; it is. With the help of healthcare professionals, loved ones, and support groups many braves have done exceptionally well in prolonging time between relapses and managing symptoms by making healthy food choices, sleeping enough, exercising based on their tolerance level, and managing everyday stress. Regularly taking your lupus medication as prescribed by your rheumatology specialist is also critical to success.
How can you manage a lupus flare up?
When a flare does occur typically it can last anywhere from two to six days. Managing symptoms requires open communication with your healthcare providers. While a visit to the office may or may not be necessary, checking in with your providers is beneficial because they can help you keep track of symptom frequency, severity, and assess if any other organs are involved. You can manage your flare symptoms by:
- Taking rescue medication (in addition to your regularly prescribed ones); typically corticosteroids are used to reduce autoimmune activity along with NSAIDS for inflammation.
- Exercise such as pilates, yoga, tai chi, swimming, biking, and low impact aerobics.
- Acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and massages for pain management.
- Removing stressors from environment
- Reaching out to your support system
Innovative research is exploring both the prevention of lupus and managing its symptoms. I thought this study looked particularly interesting because it explores the role of health coaching on disease outcomes. In a condition like lupus, does having a support system lead to positive outcomes or no change at all? The enrollment for this particular study is closed but you can probably have similar outcomes by finding a support group in your area. Or you may have similar outcomes by engaging in any clinical trials. The similarity between all of them being that you go from being an observer to becoming an active participant in your healthcare outcomes.
By Nadia Bhatti