What is a Lupus Flare?
“Flares” is the term used to describe when lupus activity or symptoms are acting up.Often, this is also described as Lupus being “active” in patients. In other words, they are periods in which lupus symptoms become noticeable.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, in 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified the need for a a consistent and clear definition for what a Lupus flare is. This is because there was no concrete understanding in what a flare was. It wasn’t until 2010 the consensus published a concrete definition for clinical use and for physician to agree on. Thus, making it easier to characterize a Lupus flare for patients.
The definition according to the Lupus Foundation is:
“A measurable increase in disease activity in one or more organ systems involving new or worse clinical signs and symptoms and/or lab measurements. The increase must be considered clinically significant by the assessor (physician or clinical researcher), and in most cases should prompt the consideration of a change or an increase in treatment.”
Types of Flares: Mild, Moderate, and Severe
There are different types of flares, which can be classified as mild, moderate and severe.
Mild Flares include lupus rashes and few symptoms.
Moderate flares could include rash, fatigue and joint or muscle pain.
Severe flares are taken with more caution, as they can cause damage to organs (such as heart or kidney). Often these types of flare require medical attention.
How can I recognize a Flare?
The Mayo Clinic describes a number of symptoms and signs to be flares. The most common experiences include:
- Joint pain— stiffness and swelling
- Butterfly-shaped rashes on face (also known as Malar Rashes)
- Hair Loss
- Abnormal Digestive Problems
- Dizziness or Forgetfulness (also known as Brain Fog, which come and go with Lupus Flares)
It’s also important to note that no two lupus cases are the same. Every Lupus case is different. So while these may be common symptoms, some people develop these symptoms slowly or suddenly. Some people may get these experiences in severe flare or even mild flare. Always keep in communication with your doctor to understand how your flares work.
What can cause a Lupus Flare?
Anything that can cause a Lupus Flare is called a “Trigger.”
Triggers stimulate activity in the immune system that can lead to Lupus Flares.
The Immune System can produce auto-antibodies that not only attack unwanted infectious material (such as viruses and bacteria) but also healthy cells and tissues.
What are some potential Triggers?
The Lupus Foundation cited common environmental triggers to lupus flares.
Common Environmental Triggers:
- Ultraviolet (UV) Rays: from the sun, or even artificial lighting and tanning beds.
- Stress: emotional and physical. Physical Stress can also include surgery or even giving birth
- Exhaustion (fatigue)
- Infection: Viral infections or even a cold.
- Sulfa Drugs: this is cited as making a person more sensitive to the sun.
- Antibiotic dugs: such as penicillin
How can I better understand my Triggers?
Keeping a Journal!
First of all, we strongly encourage to keep in contact with your doctor to understand what your triggers are!
Next, we also strongly reccomend keeping a diary or journal for Lupus activity and flares. This is can potentially be helpful for you and your doctor in the future.
Every lupus case is different, but we suggest keeping a consistent log of when and how your flares are acting up.
We suggest diary entry should include:
- The date
- Any activities you did that day,
- Anything you eat
- Medications you are taking
- Overall Mood
- Amount of sleep you had the night before
Keeping a record of flares can help understand your triggers. You can see any potential patterns that can lead to an increase of lupus activity within your body. Your body and lupus case is unique! Having a journal or log can help you better understand your Lupus!
Key Takeaway: How should I manage my flares and triggers?
Ultimately, as every lupus case is different, it’s best to speak with you doctor to better understand what works for you and what does not.
While understanding you triggers and flares is a “trial and error” process, the best advice we can give is the keep a daily log and maintain strong communication with your doctor. We also encourage to maintain as much as a balanced, healthy lifestyle as much as possible.
Living with Lupus is definitely a challenge, but we hope that with the right resources and tools, you’ll find happiness and live to your full extent.
We hope this blog post has been helpful to you.