Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flares can be hard to predict, but you don't have to let them mess with your plans. Whether you're about to get on a plane or meet friends at a restaurant, the right prep can smooth the way for a good time.
Ask your doctor about vaccinations. If you're headed to another country, check with your rheumatologist to see if vaccines are OK for you.
"If you're taking a medication that suppresses your immune system, you may not be able to receive certain immunizations," says Rochelle Rosian, MD, director of regional rheumatology at the Cleveland Clinic.
Put medicine in your carry-on. You don't want to risk getting separated from your meds if your checked bag goes missing.
"Pack extra doses," Rosian says. Also bring a prescription from your doctor, as well as your health information and insurance card in case of an emergency.
Get written permission. Ask your doctor for a letter with details about your medication, especially if you need needles to inject it or ice packs to stay cool.
"I almost missed a flight home from Europe because security thought of my ice packs as a liquid," says Daniel Malito, who lives in Garden City, N.Y., and has rheumatoid arthritis. He's a blogger for Creaky Joints, an online group that provides resources and support for people with RA.
Pack comfortable clothing. Instead of fumbling with laces and buttons, wear slip-on shoes and outwear with zippers.
"That's a lifesaver in the airport security line, when everyone's in a rush," Malito says. Also choose a pair of shoes with plenty of support and traction.
Ask for assistance. Pushing your body can wear down your energy and set the stage for a flare.
"I've learned to be honest with myself," says Cece Scott, who lives in Toronto and is a member of Creaky Joints. "Now, I'll ask for help with my luggage instead of trying to carry it myself."
To avoid long walks through the airport terminal, ask for a ride in a cart, or arrange for a wheelchair if you feel you need it.
Stretch your legs. Sitting for long stretches can lead to achy joints. "I always book the aisle seat so I can get up and walk down the aisle," Scott says. If you're on a road trip, take a lot of breaks so you can move around.
Do your research. Before you book an activity, ask if there are stairs or if you need to walk a lot.
Malito searches online to read other travelers' reviews. On a trip to Mexico, he learned that a visit to a Mayan temple involved long walks. "If my wife hadn't booked a scooter in advance, I wouldn't have been able to participate," he says.
Try to stick with your routine. During the rush of travel, it's easy to let healthy habits slide. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat right, and keep up your exercise. "Taking care of yourself reduces your chances of experiencing a flare," Rosian says.
Be safe in the sun. Spending time outdoors? Use plenty of sunscreen, and wear clothing that keeps you covered. Certain meds for rheumatoid arthritis, such as methotrexate and prednisone, can make you more sensitive to the sun's rays.
Enjoy an Evening Out
Bring extra medication. Even if you're just headed to a quick meal, pack an extra dose, Malito suggests. That way, you'll be covered if dinner turns into dessert or dancing, and you wind up staying out for longer than planned.
Rest up. Know you'll be out late at that party or wedding celebration? Get plenty of rest in the days before the event. That helps keep your energy levels up.
Keep Up Your Hobbies
Wear arthritis aids. Swollen joints can sometimes get in the way of knitting, crocheting, and typing. Fingerless compression gloves, which are also called arthritis gloves, can help. They improve your circulation and curb swelling. Ask your rheumatologist about any other devices that cut the pain when you move, such as braces and splints.
Warm up your joints. Soak your hands in a warm water or paraffin wax bath for 10 to 15 minutes, Rosian suggests. It can ease some of your discomfort. Try it before your activity, and then apply ice to relieve any swelling afterward.
Keep track of the clock. Time flies when you're having fun, but you don't want to exhaust yourself. Take a break at least every hour to rest your body, and call it quits when you feel tired.
Make some tweaks. If you can't move like you once did, look for ways to make things easier.
For example, Scott's passion is to take landscape photos when she travels. "But sometimes it's tough to hold my heavy camera equipment, so I'll take pictures with my iPad," she says.
Scott looks on the bright side. "Instead of dwelling on my limitations, I focus on the fact that I'm still able to get out there and do what I love to do," she says. "I don't let my RA hold me back."