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What Causes Arthritis Flare-Ups?

author image Marcia Veach
Marcia Veach attended Mt. Hood Community College and the University of Oregon and holds degrees in both physical therapy and journalism. She has been an active health care professional for over 30 years and a freelance writer for more than a dozen years. She has served as a writer and editor for business, nonprofit and health publications.
What Causes Arthritis Flare-Ups?
Arthritis flare-ups increase the pain and swelling in the joints.

Arthritis refers to the inflammation that sometimes occurs in one or more joints in the body. This inflammation may cause pain, swelling and stiffness in the affected joints. The National Library of Medicine lists more than 100 different types of arthritis, many of which are subject to flare-ups. These flare-ups also may be referred to as an exacerbation of the disease.

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One frequently reported factor in rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups is stress. Because people react in different ways to different situations, researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact relationship between arthritis and stress. However, like so many chronic conditions, arthritis could affect sleep and blood pressure, increase the risk of heart disease and depression or increase muscle tension and pain--all indicators of stress.


Some foods can trigger arthritis flare-ups. Among these, cow’s milk is the most often cited, but shrimp, wheat and some meats, hen’s eggs and codfish also are implicated. These are some of the same foods that frequently cause allergies, and it is the allergic reaction--which is an inflammatory process--that’s thought to be the basis for the arthritis flare-ups.


Echinacea has been cited as a possible cause of flare-ups in those with rheumatoid arthritis, as the herb is thought to stimulate the immune system. While the National Institutes of Health suggests that the jury is still out on the use of echinacea by those with autoimmune conditions, others, including the New South Wales Young Adults with Arthritis organization in Australia, recommend against its use. The organization states that aside from its possible affect in overstimulating an already disrupted immune system, the herb may interact poorly with other prescription arthritis medications.

Flare-ups in Other Types of Arthritis

For those with psoriatic arthritis, cold winter weather is often the cause of a flare-up. Cold, windy weather tends to dry out the skin, and for those whose skin is already sensitive, the result is increased cracking, inflammation and pain.

Flare-ups in joints with osteoarthritis are mostly the result of overuse, repetitive activities or injury to an already affected joint.

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