Last reviewed 01/2018

Rheumatoid arthritis follows a very unpredictable course. Most patients have relapses and remissions.

  • within 2 years of diagnosis, patients usually experience moderate disability, and after 10 years 30% are severely disabled
  • approximately one third of patients cease work because of the disease
  • life expectancy in patients with RA is also reduced. For example, a 50-year-old woman with RA is expected to die 4 years earlier than a 50-year-old woman without RA.

Some of the increased mortality is caused by gastrointestinal bleeding related to long-term use of NSAIDs, by infections potentiated through chronic use of steroids, and by the development of reactive amyloidosis, particularly in those with protracted severe disease.