How Long Do RA Flares Typically Last? | myRAteam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up Log in
Resources
About myRAteam
Powered By
What are common symptoms of RA? See answer

How Long Do RA Flares Typically Last?

Medically reviewed by Zeba Faroqui, M.D.
Written by Emily Wagner, M.S.
Posted on January 9, 2023

Almost all myRAteam members have experienced a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flare at some point. RA is a chronic disease that goes through periods of worsening symptoms (known as flare-ups) and periods of improved symptoms (remission).

Flares come and go over time, and some may last longer than others. Symptoms vary from one person to the next. One myRAteam member asked, “I know everyone is different, but how long do your flares usually last? And how often do you get them?”

Knowing how long RA flares may last and how to treat them can help you better manage your disease.

How Long Do RA Flares Last?

The length of a flare can depend on your overall health, the trigger causing the flare, and any medications you’re taking. Flares can last hours, days, or even weeks. If a flare continues for several days and begins interfering with your daily activities, talk to your rheumatologist.

Members of myRAteam have shared their own experiences with the length of flares:

  • “My flares have varied a lot, from a few days to weeks, depending on the cause. My rheumatologist prescribed an NSAID, which she advised me to start taking at the first sign of a flare.”
  • “My flares happen about every four to six weeks and last about four to six days.”
  • “I’ve had RA since 2018. I find when I have a flare, it will last about seven to 10 days.”

What Is an RA Flare?

An RA flare occurs when symptoms become worse for a period of time. Flares affect people differently and vary in their severity. Members of myRAteam have described how they experience flares:

  • “My entire body feels swollen, and it throbs and joints ache like a fever. I can only describe it as throbbing and aching in my entire body, and exhausted like I’ve run a marathon and haven’t slept for days.”
  • “To me, it feels like a sudden hot flash. Then my joints fill up with so much inflammation that I feel like I am being pulled apart. Every part of my body starts to throb.”
  • “It feels like the flu without the fever.”
  • “For me, it’s like getting run over by a truck that’s on fire. Total fatigue, throbbing, burning, tingly, and swelling feeling.”

Signs and Symptoms of an RA Flare

RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to mistake your cells for foreign invaders. Your immune system then releases chemicals known as cytokines, creating inflammation. In RA, the synovium — the fluid-filled tissue that cushions the joints — is attacked, which leads to its thickening and possible deformity.

Inflammation of the tissue around your joints causes the most common symptoms of RA, including:

  • Swollen, stiff, or tender joints
  • Low-grade fever
  • Extreme tiredness

What Causes RA Flares?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are two varieties of RA flares — predictable and unpredictable. Predictable flares are brought on by known triggers. For some people, these triggers may be stress or strong emotions. One myRAteam member shared, “I find if something is very stressful in my life or emotionally upsetting, it can bring on a flare for me.”

Others may be more affected by poor sleep, overexertion, illness, or even changes in weather. Infections, such as COVID-19 and other viral illnesses, can cause RA flares by placing stress on the body and causing an inflammatory response.

One member who’d had COVID-19 said that their RA had been extremely active: “I contracted COVID in early January, and my RA flared up immediately after.”

Predictable flares tend to get better once the trigger is removed — for example, once you get more sleep, stop pushing yourself, or recover from sickness.

Unpredictable flares, on the other hand, can’t be connected to a specific cause. You may notice your symptoms getting worse, but you can’t pinpoint a trigger. These flares may not get better on their own, thus requiring further treatment.

How Are RA Flares Treated?

The best way to prevent flares is to consistently take RA medications. Your rheumatologist may recommend several treatment options, depending on your specific case and how severe your flares are. Most of these medications target inflammation at the source to help minimize the frequency and length of flares. During a flare, your rheumatologist may increase your dosage, change your medications, or add new drugs.

At-home strategies offer another good way to help treat the symptoms of a flare. These can be combined with medication for greater relief and an improved overall well-being.

Medications for Treating RA Flares

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be found over the counter or by prescription. NSAIDs include:

Your rheumatologist may have you take NSAIDs every day to help control inflammation and keep flares at bay. These medications can also be taken at the first sign of a flare to help prevent it from becoming worse.

Corticosteroids can be given as injections in the affected joints to treat more severe flares or taken by mouth to help reduce inflammation. These medications work quickly to help control symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and joint tenderness and swelling. Examples include:

Many people with RA are prescribed disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which help control and slow disease activity while preventing permanent joint damage. Examples include conventional synthetic DMARDs like methotrexate or biologic DMARDs like etanercept (Enbrel) and adalimumab (Humira). These medications are taken as maintenance therapy and continued through a flare and afterward. If you are having frequent flares while taking your maintenance therapy, your provider may discuss changing or adding agents.

Home Remedies for Treating RA Flares

To help treat your RA flare symptoms, you can use home remedies like heat or cold therapy. Both dry and moist heat can offer relief to sore muscles and joints. Try using a heating pad or taking a hot shower or bath. For cold therapy, you can wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and place it over the affected area to help relieve joint pain.

Stress and arthritis flares are connected. Learning to manage your stress levels can help reduce symptoms during a flare-up and prevent future flares. Breathing exercises and guided meditations are great ways to focus on the present and relax your mind. Some people also find low-impact movement exercises like yoga or tai chi helpful. One myRAteam member shared, “Yoga is a tremendous help with RA.”

Reach out to your rheumatology provider for more ways to manage your RA flares or to talk about changing your treatment plan if your flares are becoming more severe or frequent.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 199,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.

How long do your RA flares typically last? What do you do to treat them? Please share your story in the comments below — or start a conversation or ask a question by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on January 9, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

Become a Subscriber

Get the latest articles about rheumatoid arthritis sent to your inbox.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Zeba Faroqui, M.D. earned her medical degree from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Learn more about her here.
Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here.

Related Articles

Have you ever woken up with unexpected bruises or felt like you’re getting clumsier with age? It ...

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Balance Problems?

Have you ever woken up with unexpected bruises or felt like you’re getting clumsier with age? It ...
If you experience persistent and painful itching with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re not alone...

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Itching Attacks

If you experience persistent and painful itching with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re not alone...
Joint swelling is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that occur...

RA Shoulder Pain: What It Feels Like and 4 Ways To Find Relief

Joint swelling is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that occur...
If you experience neck pain as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re not alone. Although...

Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Neck: 3 Ways To Manage Symptoms

If you experience neck pain as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re not alone. Although...
If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and experience difficulty remembering, concentrating, or th...

Rheumatoid Arthritis Brain Fog: 7 Tips for Coping

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and experience difficulty remembering, concentrating, or th...
If you are one of the 1.5 million American adults living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’ve l...

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Swan-Neck Deformity in Fingers?

If you are one of the 1.5 million American adults living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’ve l...

Recent Articles

Welcome to myRAteam — the place to connect with others living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Th...

Getting Started on myRAteam (VIDEO)

Welcome to myRAteam — the place to connect with others living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Th...
Have you ever received a vaccine and felt its effects that night or the following day? Inflammati...

Can COVID-19 Vaccination Trigger Rheumatoid Arthritis? What We Currently Know

Have you ever received a vaccine and felt its effects that night or the following day? Inflammati...
“My primary care provider and rheumatologist both agreed my working days are over,” said a myRAte...

When Should You Stop Working if You Have RA?

“My primary care provider and rheumatologist both agreed my working days are over,” said a myRAte...
Sometimes it can be hard to figure out just what’s causing your joint pain. Take rheumatoid arthr...

Polymyalgia Rheumatica vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: 5 Differences

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out just what’s causing your joint pain. Take rheumatoid arthr...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes joint pain and inflammatio...

Hypothyroidism and RA: What’s the Connection?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes joint pain and inflammatio...
Many people who live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) search for ways to feel better and improve th...

Is Magnesium Good for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Many people who live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) search for ways to feel better and improve th...
myRAteam My rheumatoid arthritis Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close