Rheumatoid Arthritis: Prognosis and Life Expectancy

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Rheumatology consultation looking at hand x-rays

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that inflames the lining of the joints and, over time, can also damage organs, including your heart and lungs. The life expectancy of people with RA has increased significantly over the past two decades with the introduction of new treatments, but RA is still associated with a shorter life expectancy of up to 10 or 15 years for some people. The prognosis varies according to an individual’s general health, lifestyle, and treatment plan. Today’s effective treatments can slow the progression of the disease for many people, reduce joint damage, and lower the likelihood of other complications.

Factors That Affect Life Expectancy in People With RA 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease that is associated with other serious health conditions. If you have RA, monitoring and treatment by your medical team will help manage the higher risk of complications and conditions, including:

  • Nodules: movable, firm lumps or bumps around the joints, which affect about 20% of people with RA 

RA Treatments and Lifestyle Changes That Improve Prognosis  

A combination of medication and lifestyle choices can improve individual prognosis and life expectancy in people with rheumatoid arthritis. If you are diagnosed with RA, it’s important to follow your treatment plan, go to follow up visits, and choose healthy lifestyle options.

Medications for RA include:

  • DMARDS: disease modifying antirheumatic drugs, including biologics, which are genetically engineered drugs that may reduce inflammation and slow disease progression. They can make you more susceptible to infection.

  • Methotrexate: an immunosuppressive drug that can be given in conjunction with other RA medication 

  • Steroids: injections or pills that reduce inflammation

Non-medication treatments and lifestyle choices that can benefit people with RA include:

  • Physical therapy

  • Anti-inflammatory diets, such as Mediterranean or vegan diets

  • Staying active, but also allowing your body to rest after increased activity 

  • Avoiding tobacco

  • Drinking less alcohol, since alcohol puts additional stress on the liver already at risk due to strong RA drugs

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment can be effective and even lead to remission, when there is little or no disease activity. Remission is more likely when treatment begins early and is accompanied by a healthy lifestyle, but relapses do occur. Work closely with your doctor to communicate your symptoms and follow all medical advice to enhance your quality of life and help improve your prognosis if you have rheumatoid arthritis.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 19
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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