Comprehensive Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Quality of Life

Welcome to our comprehensive guide to rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In this article, we will provide you with in-depth information about this autoimmune and inflammatory disease, including its symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment options, complications, and strategies to improve your quality of life. As a trusted source of health information, we aim to empower individuals like you to understand and manage rheumatoid arthritis.


What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells, resulting in inflammation and painful swelling in various parts of the body. Unlike other forms of arthritis, RA primarily affects the joints, often targeting multiple joints simultaneously. The most commonly affected joints include those in the hands, wrists, and knees. The inflammation caused by RA can lead to long-lasting pain, instability, and joint deformities. It's important to note that RA can also affect other body tissues and organs such as the lungs, heart, and eyes, leading to additional complications.

Signs and Symptoms of RA

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of RA is crucial for early detection and timely intervention. The following are common indicators of rheumatoid arthritis:

  1. Pain or aching in multiple joints: RA typically manifests as pain or discomfort in more than one joint throughout the body.

  2. Stiffness in multiple joints: Individuals with RA often experience stiffness, making it challenging to move the affected joints freely.

  3. Tenderness and swelling in multiple joints: Inflammation in the joints can result in tenderness and swelling, making them sensitive to touch.

  4. Symmetrical joint involvement: RA tends to affect joints on both sides of the body simultaneously, such as both hands or both knees.

  5. Weight loss: Unexplained weight loss may occur in some individuals with RA.

  6. Fever: RA can be accompanied by intermittent fever.

  7. Fatigue or tiredness: Chronic fatigue is a common complaint among individuals with RA.

  8. Weakness: RA may cause generalized weakness, limiting physical capabilities.


Causes and Risk Factors for RA

The precise causes of rheumatoid arthritis are not yet fully understood. However, researchers have identified certain factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the disease:

  1. Age: While RA can occur at any age, the risk increases with advancing age. The onset of RA is most common among adults in their sixties.

  2. Gender: Women are more likely to develop RA than men, with the incidence in women being two to three times higher.

  3. Genetics: Certain genetic factors play a role in RA susceptibility. People with specific genes (HLA class II genotypes) have an increased risk of developing RA. These genes can also influence the severity of arthritis symptoms. Environmental factors, such as smoking or obesity, may interact with these genes, further elevating the risk.

  4. Smoking: Numerous studies have established a strong link between cigarette smoking and the risk of RA development. Smoking increases the likelihood of developing RA and exacerbates disease severity.

  5. Reproductive factors: Women who have never given birth may have a higher risk of developing RA.

  6. Early Life Exposures: Certain early life exposures, such as maternal smoking, have been associated with an increased risk of RA in adulthood. Children from lower-income families are also more likely to develop RA later in life.

  7. Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing RA. Moreover, studies indicate that the degree of overweightness positively correlates with the risk of RA.

  8. Environmental factors: Certain environmental factors, such as exposure to certain infections or pollutants, may contribute to the development of RA in genetically susceptible individuals.

  9.  Family history: Having a family history of RA or other autoimmune diseases increases the risk of developing the condition.

It's important to note that while these factors may increase the likelihood of developing RA, they do not guarantee the development of the disease. Many individuals with RA have no known risk factors, and not everyone with risk factors will develop RA.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis involves a combination of clinical evaluation, medical history assessment, and diagnostic tests. Here are some common steps in the diagnostic process:

  1. Medical history: Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history to understand your condition better.

  2. Physical examination: A thorough physical examination will be conducted to assess joint swelling, tenderness, range of motion, and other relevant factors.

  3. Blood tests: Blood tests are commonly performed to measure certain markers, including rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies. These markers help in confirming the diagnosis and assessing the severity of the disease.

  4. Imaging tests: X-rays, ultrasounds, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to visualize the affected joints and assess the extent of joint damage or inflammation.

  5. Diagnostic criteria: Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed based on established diagnostic criteria, such as the American College of Rheumatology (ACR)/European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) classification criteria. These criteria consider various clinical and laboratory parameters.

It's essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.


Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis

While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, treatment aims to manage symptoms, prevent joint damage, and improve quality of life. The treatment approach often involves a combination of the following strategies:

  1. Medications:

    • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These drugs, such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and leflunomide, work to slow down the progression of RA and reduce joint inflammation.

    • Biologic response modifiers: Biologic drugs, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitors, and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, target specific components of the immune system to reduce inflammation and halt joint damage.

    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.

    • Corticosteroids: These powerful anti-inflammatory medications are sometimes prescribed for short-term use to provide rapid relief during flare-ups.

  2. Physical therapy: Physical therapy and rehabilitation programs can improve joint function, reduce pain, and increase strength and flexibility. Occupational therapy can help individuals adapt to their limitations and learn techniques for performing daily activities more easily.

  3. Lifestyle modifications: Certain lifestyle changes can help manage RA symptoms, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, stress management, and adequate rest and sleep.

  4. Assistive devices: The use of assistive devices such as braces, splints, or orthotic shoe inserts can provide support to affected joints and reduce pain.

  5. Surgery: In severe cases of joint damage, surgery may be considered. Joint replacement surgeries, such as hip or knee replacements, can significantly improve mobility and quality of life for some individuals.

It's important to work closely with a rheumatologist or healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan based on your specific needs and disease severity.

I hope this information helps! Let me know if you have any further questions.


Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging, but with proper management and support, it is possible to lead a fulfilling life. Here are some tips for coping with RA:

  1. Education: Learn as much as you can about rheumatoid arthritis, its symptoms, treatment options, and self-care strategies. Understanding your condition will empower you to make informed decisions and actively participate in your own care.

  2. Medication management: Follow your prescribed medication regimen as directed by your healthcare provider. Keep track of any side effects or changes in symptoms and discuss them with your doctor.

  3. Pain management: Explore various pain management techniques, such as hot and cold therapy, relaxation techniques, and gentle exercises, to alleviate pain and stiffness.

  4. Exercise: Engage in regular low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, to improve joint flexibility, strengthen muscles, and enhance overall well-being. Consult with a physical therapist or rheumatologist to determine the most suitable exercise program for you.


  1. Balanced diet: Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Some individuals with RA may find certain dietary modifications helpful, such as avoiding specific foods that may trigger inflammation.

  2. Stress management: Find effective stress management techniques that work for you, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies or activities you enjoy. Stress reduction can help minimize flare-ups and improve overall well-being.

  3. Support network: Seek support from family, friends, and support groups who understand your challenges and can provide emotional support. Sharing experiences with others who have RA can be beneficial and provide a sense of community.

  4. Adaptive tools: Consider using assistive tools and devices, such as jar openers, reachers, or ergonomic utensils, to make daily tasks easier and reduce strain on your joints.

  5. Regular check-ups: Attend regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your condition, adjust treatment as needed, and address any concerns or questions you may have.

Remember, rheumatoid arthritis affects individuals differently, and what works for one person may not work for another. It's important to work closely with your healthcare team to develop a personalized management plan that suits your specific needs.

If you have any further questions or need more information, feel free to ask.


The Role of Pharmaplus Pharmacy in Rheumatoid Arthritis Management

When it comes to managing rheumatoid arthritis, having access to reliable healthcare resources and support is crucial. Pharmaplus Pharmacy is committed to providing comprehensive care and assistance to individuals with RA in Kenya. As the leading retail pharmacy in the country, Pharmaplus Pharmacy offers a range of services and products tailored to the needs of RA patients.


  1. Medication and Prescription Filling: At Pharmaplus Pharmacy we ensure that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis have access to the necessary medications prescribed by their healthcare providers. With over 60 branches countrywide we stock a wide range of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), supplements, and biological response modifiers, essential for managing RA symptoms and slowing disease progression. What's more, we offer free delivery services 

  2. Expert Guidance: Pharmaplus Pharmacy has a team of knowledgeable pharmacists who can provide guidance and answer questions about RA medications, potential side effects, and proper usage. We can also offer advice on over-the-counter products, such as pain relievers or joint supports, that may complement the treatment plan.

  3. Patient Education: Pharmaplus Pharmacy believes in empowering patients with information and education about rheumatoid arthritis. We provide educational materials and organize workshops, webinars, and medical camps where we offer one-on-one consultations to help individuals understand their condition better and make informed decisions about their treatment and self-care.

  1. Collaboration with Healthcare Providers: Pharmaplus Pharmacy works closely with rheumatologists and other healthcare providers specializing in rheumatoid arthritis. This collaboration ensures a coordinated approach to patient care, with pharmacists and healthcare professionals working together to optimize treatment outcomes and support patients throughout their RA journey.

  2. Convenient Services: Pharmaplus Pharmacy understands that managing RA may involve regular medication refills and adherence. To make the process more convenient, we offer services like free home delivery of medications, automated prescription refill reminders, and personalized packaging to help individuals stay on track with their treatment plans.

By choosing Pharmaplus Pharmacy, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from their expertise, support, and commitment to improving the quality of life for RA patients in Kenya.


Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex autoimmune disease that affects millions of individuals worldwide. With its chronic nature and potential for joint damage and complications, managing RA requires a comprehensive approach that includes timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, self-care strategies, and a supportive healthcare network.

By recognizing the signs and symptoms of RA, understanding the risk factors, and seeking an early diagnosis, individuals can take proactive steps toward managing the condition effectively. Treatment options, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biological response modifiers, and self-management strategies, can help alleviate symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve overall well-being.

It's essential to work closely with a healthcare team, including rheumatologists and pharmacists, specializing in rheumatoid arthritis. They can provide personalized guidance, support, and access to necessary medications and resources.

Remember, each individual's journey with rheumatoid arthritis is unique. By staying informed, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, and seeking appropriate care, individuals with RA can take control of their condition and live fulfilling lives.

Pharmaplus Pharmacy, as the leading retail pharmacy in Kenya, is dedicated to supporting individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and providing the necessary resources and expertise to help them manage their condition effectively.

If you have any further questions or need additional information, please contact your healthcare provider or Pharmaplus Pharmacy.