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Is Arthritis Deadly?

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Author: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

Ask a Doctor

How long can a person live with arthritis? I’m 73 and lately my arthritis has taken a turn for the worse. The pain is very bad, and I know arthritis is a progressive disease. Can it eventually kill you?

Doctor’s Response

There are over 100 different types of arthritis and in general, while the disease is chronic and can be disabling, it is not deadly. Overall life expectancy with most types of arthritis is not affected much, but quality of life can be greatly reduced depending on the severity of the arthritis.

However, one type of arthritis called rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with a shorter lifespan of 10 to 15 years. RA itself is not fatal, but severe RA can cause complications such as narrowed or blocked heart arteries, scarring of the lungs, and blood cancers that can shorten life expectancy. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve the outlook for patients with RA.

  • Currently, prevention of arthritis focuses on avoiding joint injury and early diagnosis and treatment.
  • Research clearly demonstrates that early diagnosis and treatment can result in less damage, deformity, disability, and even mortality in rheumatoid disease.
  • The treatment of rheumatoid disease is not only more effective but easier when administered early.
  • Additionally, maintaining overall good health and strength with exercise and good nutrition can be helpful in preventing joint disease.

Scientists throughout the world are studying many promising areas of new treatment approaches for inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These areas include more biologic treatments that block the action of the special inflammation factors, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNFalpha) and interleukin-1 (IL-6). Many other drugs are being developed that act against certain critical white blood cells involved in rheumatoid inflammation. Also, new NSAIDs with mechanisms of action that are different from current drugs are on the horizon.

In the future, medications may be available that can protect the cartilage from the deteriorating consequences of osteoarthritis. New treatments, such as antiinflammatory lotion and patches (diclofenac [Flector]) are becoming available for relief of joint pain symptoms. Innovative cartilage research will open the door for new approaches to an old problem. Investigators are evaluating the effectiveness of over-the-counter food supplements. Better treatment options are being developed as we understand more about our immune system and genetics.

Better methods are becoming available to more accurately define which patients are more likely to develop more aggressive disease. Gene profiling, also known as gene array analysis, is being identified as a helpful method of defining which people will respond to which medications. Studies are underway that are using gene array analysis methods to determine which patients will be at more risk for more aggressive disease. Finally, genetic research and engineering is likely to bring forth many new avenues for earlier diagnosis and accurate treatment in the near future. This is all occurring because of technology improvements. We are at the threshold of tremendous improvements in the way rheumatoid arthritis is managed.

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Reviewed on 4/12/2019
Sources: References
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