Rheumatoid Arthritis

5 Reasons That Can Aggravate Rheumatoid Arthritis

5 Reasons That Can Aggravate Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an unpredictable disease. One day, your joints may feel healthy as ever; another day, your joints are swollen and in so much pain that you can barely move around. These episodes of increased intensity of symptoms are called flares. Each person experiences them differently, so there is no fixed definition for this condition.What complicates these rheumatoid arthritis flares is their variety. There are two types of flares – predictable and unpredictable. It’s pretty simple to understand; “predictable” flares have a specific, known trigger. Common triggers include lack of sleep, infections or overexertion. The good thing about predictable flares is that the effect is temporary, and will resolve in time. Unpredictable triggers, on the other hand, have no known triggers. Patients usually do not know what caused the flare. The symptoms do not resolve on their own and generally require medical attention.1

Does this sound a little familiar to you? Have you ever experienced a flare but aren’t sure what the trigger might have been? Well, we can help you in understanding these triggers. We have curated a list of 5 common triggers that might aggravate your rheumatoid arthritis. 

Read on to identify yours:

Worrying and/or Stress2,3
The link between stress and rheumatoid arthritis is long known and acknowledged. Studies have shown that trauma or stress triggers the development of rheumatoid arthritis and worrying makes the disease worse. There is also a link between psychological stress and poor outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis, including disease flares. Patients who reported pain showed higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol as well as inflammatory cytokines in their blood. Doctors believe that emotional stress affects the normal functioning of our immune system, which plays a big role in rheumatoid arthritis.

Weather Conditions4
No, you’re not reading it wrong. The weather can affect you and your RA flare-ups! Cold and humidity hurt your joints. Different patients have different tolerance levels, so it’s natural to perceive the pain from these flares differently. Rheumatoid arthritis patients report that the pain and swelling in their joints are generally less on sunny days. Researchers don’t know exactly why weather change affects our joints, but some correlate these flares with decreased activity during winters. Others rely on a more scientific explanation, suggesting that expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissues result in pain in arthritis affected tissues. Cold weather also increases the thickness of joint fluids, making them stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain during movement.

Lack of Sleep5
More than 50% of rheumatoid arthritis patients have reported sleep disturbance. This disturbance has been found to correlate with greater pain and disease activity, i.e., flares. Studies have shown that sleep loss activates RA-related joint pain. Sleep loss can further increase the pain and reduce functional activity levels. It is necessary for RA patients to have a proper sleep routine so that they can eliminate all the risk factors for a possible flare such as fatigue and stress.

Dietary Habits6
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory problem. So, it makes sense for RA patients to choose foods that are compatible with their immune system. Everyone reacts to different trigger foods, so it is important to mind your eating habits and observe the after-effects. On a large consensus, following are the food items that may cause inflammation and so, RA patients should avoid these:
Sugar triggers the release of inflammatory messengers in the body. Watch out for ingredients ending with “-ose”, e.g., fructose or sucrose, while shopping for groceries.
Saturated fats and trans fats trigger fat tissue inflammation, which further worsens joint-related inflammation. Trans fats can be found in fast foods and other fried products, processed snack foods, and are a trigger for full-body inflammation. Avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient labels.
Alcohol is a burden to the liver and we know it. Excessive intake can cause inflammation and harm other organs as well. It is best to eliminate it from our lives or take it in moderation.

Rheumatoid arthritis is influenced by multiple genetic risk factors and environmental triggers. Infection contributes to the initiation as well as an exaggeration of RA. Bacterial infections directly or indirectly induce certain cells in our body which triggers an immune/inflammatory response, leading to flares. Human studies have shown the association of a bacterial infection of the gums with RA patients and in people at high-risk for RA.  


  1. Understanding rheumatoid arthritis flares. Check out. Accessed on 20 December 2019.
  2. How stress affects arthritis. Check out. Accessed on 20 December 2019.
  3. Can managing stress keep RA symptoms in check? Check out. Accessed on 20 December 2019.
  4. Weather and arthritis pain. Check out. Accessed on 20 December 2019.
  5. Irwin MR, et al. Sleep loss exacerbates fatigue, depression, and pain in rheumatoid arthritis. Sleep. 2012;35(4):537–543.
  6. 8 food ingredients that can cause inflammation. Check out. Accessed on 20 December 2019.
  7. Li S, et al. Microbial infection and rheumatoid arthritis. J Clin Cell Immunol. 2013;4(6):174.

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