What is a flare exactly? Well, a flare is technically defined as an exacerbation of a chronic disease.
The US National Center for Health Statistics states a chronic disease is disease that generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, don’t just disappear on their own, and persist for usually 3 months or more.
Autoimmune diseases are considered chronic illness. Which means if you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you’ve most likely experienced a flare at some point on another. If you have, you know that symptoms can increase or decrease depending on whether you’re in an active flare or remission.
When someone has an autoimmune disease, their immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake and inflammation occurs. Inflammation varies person to person, but can start out with symptoms like a low grade fever, muscle and body aches, unexplained fatigue, swelling, redness, heat, etc. If you are experiencing these for the first time, and not sure if they could be a result of an autoimmune disease, it’s important to consult your medical team to get an accurate diagnosis.
If a flare is an exacerbation, it can be debilitating and the goal is to get the inflammation down as quickly as possible. For some, that’s talking with their doctor and getting pharmaceutical help, for others, it’s managed at home, and for many it’s a combination of both. No shame in whatever avenue you need to take to get your health back on track.
Everyday things like stress, food, and even your environment can trigger a flare. Learning what triggers your symptoms is key to understanding how to keep these episodes or exacerbation to a minimum. First, let me start off with saying: These effects are not in your head, they are in your nervous system and they are not your fault (even if you cheated with some foods you know fire you up).
“For me, tracking has made all the difference in the world. I use a bullet journal to track medications, supplements, water, food/diet intake, beverage intake, stress level, sleep, mood, monthly cycle and even activity and weather for the month and after a few months of doing this, I could start to really see a correlation between them. Plus, getting in the habit of doing this every night allowed me the opportunity to brain dump so to speak so I didn’t have to try to remember everything the next day and I could look back over all the information and learn more about myself. It honestly gave me a sense of control in a body I am constantly feeling out of control over. Whether you utilize paper like me, or a digital platform like Misti, tracking is empowering and at least gives you a place to start. ” -Amber
Once you’ve gathered some information about yourself, the next step is learning how to manage your flare ups. Since they are about as unique as our illnesses are, what works for one person, i.e. walking or yoga and green smoothies-may be a trigger for someone else, so learning what down regulates your nervous system is so important.
Here are some questions I ask myself when my symptoms are flaring:
- Am I drinking enough water?
- How’s my sleep?
- How’s my stress level?
- Do I see a pattern with my food and symptoms?
- If I eliminate something do my symptoms get better?
- Am I trying to do too much on my remission/feel good days? Is there a link there?
- Environment? Do I have any allergies I may not know about? Do I need to talk to my medical team?
- How’s my emotional well-being? Am I in a good, healthy mental space?
- How long do flares last?
Well, the duration of flares vary from person to person and for some can last a few hours, days, weeks, or even months. It really depends on so many unique factors-again, why tracking is important because then you at least have some clarity in the chaos. For flares that feel like they last forever, taking care of your mental and emotional health is just as important as your physical health. It’s okay to reach out and ask for what you need. Do you need more help around the house? How about help taking the kids to school-do you have a friend or family member that could assist with pick up and drop off? Can you send out the laundry or enlist the kids? I know as superhuman spoonies, we really try to be super human-and I know the world doesn’t stop just because we are in a flare. That is why finding and building a good support system is crucial, as well as creating a “P.O.C” or Plan of Care for your flare up. Similar to how you would prepare for an emergency evacuation plan-doing a little prep work when you are feeling better will make those flare up days, weeks, or months, just a tad bit more manageable. Prepping freezer meals, ordering take out, having a movie marathon, whatever you can do to ease the burden off of you a bit, do it and practice that self-care. Remember self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.
And P.S. in case no one has told you lately, you’re doing an amazing job! Yes, YOU! No matter where you are at in this journey, and no matter how much or little you do, you’re doing your best and you aren’t alone!
*National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK