How Long Can a Person Live with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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

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.

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, with early, aggressive treatment with DMARDs, many patients are able to achieve remission, meaning the symptoms of RA are quiet.

DMARDs, or Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, comprise a group of drugs 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 rheumatoid arthritis medications unless advised to do so by a rheumatologist.

For more information, read our full medical article on rheumatoid arthritis.

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