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Am Autoimmune Flares

Assessing Severity of Autoimmune Flares

What are flares and how are they different for different autoimmune conditions?

Flares in an autoimmune condition are the worsening of symptoms that interferes with your daily routine more severely than on a regular daily basis. Any time a flare keeps you bedridden, out of focus, or out of commission for more than 72 hours most physicians declare that you are experiencing a flare up of your condition.

Psoriasis may exacerbate and become more reddened, painful, and affect more areas. Multiple sclerosis flares may cause such weakness that you are bedridden for days or a flare may be noticed because you can’t think as clearly or speak as well. MS may cause you to drag your feet more, feel weaker than usual, or have bladder incontinence.

Thyroid flares can cause a variety of symptoms as well including hyperactivity, irritability, or an increase or decrease in appetite. Celiac disease flares can cause a sudden change in bowel habits, liquid stools, bloody stools, and abdominal pain.

Is it more important to assess severity of flares in terms of how long it takes for the flares to calm down, or how debilitating it is?

The severity of the flares and the length of time for the flares to calm down are important to consider and record. But it is also very important to track what causes the flares to occur and what increases their occurrence. Physicians want to know when you experience a flare that lasts longer than 72 hours. Many times they need to examine you during a flare up of symptoms particularly during the diagnosis and initial treatment phase of the disease. With more than 80 autoimmune diseases documented, it is important for your physician to understand your symptoms and what a flare up looks like for you so treatment can be targeted to your disease.

Should I keep a flare journal to assign my own “Flare rating” or is there a rating system available from the medical community to assign a rating?

The medical community has a universal numerical pain scale rating pain from 1 being the least pain to 10 being the most pain which can be applied to the flares of autoimmune diseases. In regards to debilitating symptoms during a flare, a numerical scale is also used because it is universally understood. Ten is the most debilitating flare and 1 would be the least.

It would be helpful to keep your own flare journal for symptoms, the length of time the flares last, and the activities that lead up to flares. Tracking what causes them to occur may be very helpful in preventing flares from happening and in decreasing the severity of the flare once it is recognized as a flare. Keep in mind that flares are often related to stress and lack of rest, both of which lead to an increase in symptoms in autoimmune conditions.

Questions for your doctor:

  • How soon should I contact the office when experiencing a flare of symptoms?
  • Do you have a specific rating system that you prefer for your patients?
  • How do I determine if the symptoms I have are significant enough to call a flare and not my daily condition?
  • Is there medication to treat or prevent flares of my autoimmune condition?
  • Are there over the counter medications that I should avoid during a flare?

About the Author
Terri Forehand is a critical care nurse and freelance writer. She is the author The Cancer Prayer Book and a soon to be released picture book titled The ABC’s of Cancer According to Lilly Isabella Lane. She writes from her home where she lives with her husband and an array of rescue dogs nestled in the hills of Brown County, Indiana.


This blog post was originally published by, written by Terri Forehand, and first published on May 15, 2012.

This post contains the opinions of the author. Autoimmune Association is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances. Autoimmune Association does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website. Your use of the website is subject to our Privacy Policy.

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