Rheumatoid Arthritis (cont.)
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Rheumatoid Arthritis Prognosis
As a rule, the severity of rheumatoid arthritis waxes and wanes. Periods of active inflammation and tissue damage marked by worsening of symptoms (flares) are interspersed with periods of little or no activity, in which symptoms get better or go away altogether (remission). The duration of these cycles varies widely among individuals.
Outcomes are also highly variable. Some people have a relatively mild condition, with little disability or loss of function. Others at the opposite end of the spectrum experience severe disability due to pain and loss of function. Disease that remains persistently active for more than a year is likely to lead to joint deformities and disability. Approximately 40% of people have some degree of disability 10 years after their diagnosis. For most, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic progressive illness, but about 5%-10% of people experience remission without treatment. This is uncommon, however, after the first three to six months.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not fatal, but complications of the disease shorten life span by a few years in some individuals. Although generally rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured, the disease gradually becomes less aggressive and symptoms may even improve. However, any damage to joints and ligaments and any deformities that have occurred are permanent. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect parts of the body other than the joints.
The early treatment and use of DMARDs and biologic response modifiers in rheumatoid arthritis has resulted in patients experiencing more profound relief of symptoms and less joint damage and less disability over time. So the prognosis is best when treatment is started early.
Common complications of rheumatoid arthritis include the following:
Overall, the rate of premature death is higher in people with rheumatoid arthritis than in the general population. The most common causes of premature death in people with rheumatoid arthritis are infection, vasculitis, and poor nutrition. Fortunately, the manifestations of severe, long-standing disease, such as nodules, vasculitis, and deforming are becoming less common with optimal treatments.
For More Information
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
American College of Rheumatology
Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Groups and Counseling
Living with the effects of rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult. Sometimes people can feel frustrated, perhaps even angry or resentful. Sometimes it helps to have someone to talk to.
This is the purpose of support groups. Support groups consist of people in the same situation. They come together to help each other and to help themselves. Support groups provide reassurance, motivation, and inspiration. They can help people see that their situation is not unique, and that gives them power. They also provide practical tips on coping with the disease.
Support groups meet in person, on the telephone, or on the Internet. Ask a health-care professional or contact the following organizations or look on the Internet to find a suitable support group. If someone does not have access to the Internet, go to the public library.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/11/2015
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