Managing Lupus Flares

Woman rubbing knee
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For many, the thought of an ache or pain flaring up — think of the stiff knee your grandfather gets when there’s a storm approaching — is a small annoyance. For lupus patients, a flare can be much more serious and is a reminder that the disease is still with them, no matter how long in the past it has remained quiet.


Lupus patients often suffer unpredictable bouts of the disease —​ ​a flare — followed by periods of remission.

What causes a flare is almost as unpredictable as when the flare will occur, but there are some common catalysts, including sunlight — especially those lupus patients who are photosensitive — and an illness that does not go away. But stress, certain medications, and even pregnancy can trigger flares in lupus patients.

Those who have not been diagnosed, this continued reoccurrence of symptoms might be the first clue that lupus is the cause. For patients already diagnosed with lupus, flares may occur less.

Signs of a Flare

Prior to the onset of a flare, lupus patients may notice a number of indicative signs:

  • Out of proportion and persistent fatigue
  • Persistent weakness
  • Aching all over
  • Slight to high fever
  • Persistent loss of appetite
  • Involuntary weight loss
  • Increasing hair loss
  • Nosebleeds
  • Unexplained skin rash
  • Painful, stiff or swollen joints
  • Chest pain which increases with breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent unusual headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Blood in the urine

How to Prevent a Flare

Treatment plans for lupus help quell the onset of symptoms and flares. Those plans may include:

  • Physical and emotional rest
  • Aggressive treatment of infections
  • Exercise
  • Good nutrition; and,
  • Avoidance of direct sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet light

    Flares are to be treated seriously, however, as they are a sign that of increased disease activity. That is why it is imperative for lupus patients to take care of themselves, as well as understand and follow their treatment plan.

    A Note About Medications

    Often, one of the more unexpected flare triggers is medications. What seems to be of help, could actually be of harm. So it is always recommended to check with your doctor before taking a new medication and before stopping any medication, both over-the-counter and prescribed. And make sure you tell any nurse or doctor you’re unfamiliar with that you have lupus, so they are aware when prescribing medications.

    Also, be wary of skin and scalp preparations. Check that you do not have a sensitivity to the item by first trying it on your forearm or back of your ear. If redness, rash, itching or pain develops, do not use the product.

    Check in with your physician prior to receiving any immunization. Routine immunizations, like those for the flu and pneumonia, are an important part of maintaining your health, but you should make sure your doctor approves before getting the shots.


    “Signs and Symptoms That May Signal if a Lupus Flare is Beginning. Lupus Foundation of America Newsletter. January 1992.

    Lupus: A Patient Care Guide for Nurses and Other Health Professionals May 2001, Revised September 2006. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases/National Institutes of Health.