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What’s the Prognosis for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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  • Overview


    Symptoms and severity of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) vary from person to person. Your prognosis will depend on many factors, such as whether you test positive or negative for the protein called rheumatoid factor (RF).

    Other factors that affect prognosis include your age at time of diagnosis, overall health, and whether or not you develop complications. Making the right lifestyle choices and adhering to your treatment plan can make a big difference.

    Click through the slideshow to learn more.

  • Quality of Life

    Quality of Life

    RA can affect joints throughout the body, causing damage to cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. In time, RA can affect your bones and other organs, causing people who have RA to be more likely to develop disability than those who don’t. This can interfere with employment, recreation, and family relationships.

    People who test positive for rheumatoid factor, and those who are diagnosed at a younger age tend to experience more severe symptoms. However, early treatment can minimize damage and ease pain.

  • Complications


    People with RA are at increased risk for nodules under the skin, as well as joint deformities. Some develop problems with the cervical spine. Other complications include:

    • anemia
    • eye inflammation
    • osteoporosis
    • diabetes

    People with RA are also more prone to developing inflammation of:

    • the blood vessels (rheumatoid vasculitis)
    • the outer lining of the heart (pericarditis)
    • and heart muscle (myocarditis) 
  • Medical Care

    Medical Care

    People who have RA require frequent visits to their primary care physicians and doctors who specialize in RA. As the disease progresses, there may be a need for more outpatient testing, in-hospital care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or other types of regular treatment.

  • Heart Disease

    Heart Disease

    People with RA are at increased risk of heart disease, particularly ischemic heart disease. RA patients are more likely to be hospitalized due to myocardial infarction, angina, or congestive heart failure.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more research is needed to learn if this is due to RA, high-risk lifestyle factors such as smoking, or drugs used to treat RA. 

  • Infections


    People with autoimmune diseases are generally more susceptible to infections. According to one study, infections may account for as many as 36 percent of deaths in people with RA. Researchers aren't sure if this is due to the RA itself, if it is a side effect of drugs used to treat RA, or a combination of both, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Psychological Issues

    Psychological Issues

    People with RA have a higher incidence of anxiety and depression. This may be the result of progressing symptoms and increasing disability. It’s important to continue to exercise whenever possible, get sufficient rest, and follow a healthy diet. Be sure to visit with your doctor regularly and report symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

  • Cancer


    People with RA have increased risk for some cancers. Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system and white blood cells, is more likely to occur in people with moderate to severe RA. This is especially true of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

    According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, studies show that people with RA are 63 percent more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer. However, RA patients have lower risk of colorectal cancer and slightly lower risk of breast cancer.

  • Lungs


    As the disease progresses, people with RA are at increased risk of developing lung problems. These include high blood pressure in the lungs, nodules in the lungs, and scarring of the lungs.

    You may also be at increased risk of developing a blockage in the small airways of the lungs. According to The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, respiratory causes are the second major cause of death in people with RA.

  • Life Expectancy

    Life Expectancy

    Due to complications, the lifespan for people with RA may be shortened by 10 years. However, it’s important to note that there are great differences in disease progression.

    People who are diagnosed at a younger age or who test positive for rheumatoid factor tend to progress at a faster rate. Thankfully, treatment options for RA are advancing and new drugs are improving chances for remission.