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The beach was an amazing way to relax last weekend with my man. But after a few hours of sun and swimming in the Florida ocean, I realized how hot pink my legs had gotten. And then I remembered I forgot to put sunscreen on them!

Sunburns are the worst thing ever. But they are even more painful for those of us with a chronic inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis. A sunburn is an acute inflammatory reaction of the skin that follows excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun. So basically, my legs had decided to send a trigger to my immune system (currently being suppressed by a biologic medication) to hurry up and heal my poor burned legs.

But that’s the last thing I wanted to happen — because it sent my body into a full flare-up mode. Not only were my legs on fire this past week, with color and pain, but so was the rest of my body. I felt like a big puff ball, as my body was responding to the inflammation started by my sunburn.

With rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system — which usually does a great job fighting germs that want to cause infections — turns its powerful attack on your body. Certain chemicals cause severe inflammation in your joints, which then causes the pain and swelling that comes along with the disease. But according to research, we should not only be worried about the inflammation in our joints that can cause joint damage, because the inflammation runs throughout our entire body with a flare-up. Eventually, it can cause inflammation in your heart. That’s why it is important to try to suppress the inflammation caused by RA.

Lesson learned – I will put sunscreen on before I leave the house and reapply once we get to the beach. I really want to avoid the week-long flare-up next time.