How Long Can a Person Live with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Reviewed on 2/16/2022

Ask a Doctor

I have just been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and I’m worried. I’m only 60 and I hope to live to see my grandchildren grow. How long can a person live with rheumatoid arthritis?

Doctor’s Response

When you first receive a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, you are naturally going to have many questions and real concerns. 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.

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.

While there is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, early, aggressive treatment with rheumatoid arthritis medications such as DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), can help many patients to achieve remission, meaning the symptoms of RA are quiet.

DMARDs comprise a group of drugs that includes a wide variety of agents that work in many different ways. What they all have in common is that they interfere in the immune processes that promote inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.

Sometimes, the dose of medications may be reduced when remission is achieved. It is unusual for rheumatoid arthritis to remain in remission if medications are stopped, and when this does occur (rarely), symptoms and signs usually come back over time. For this reason, it is not advisable to stop your rheumatoid arthritis medications unless advised to do so by a rheumatologist.

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Reviewed on 2/16/2022
McInnes, I.B., and G. Schett. "Mechanisms of Disease: The Pathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis." N Engl J Med 365 (2011): 2205-2219.