What is the outlook for rheumatoid arthritis?

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Because rheumatoid arthritis can affect different people in different ways, we can’t predict how the condition might develop for you. However, a study of a large group of people with rheumatoid arthritis gave us some general guidelines:

  • 75% of people will continue having some joint pain, swelling and flare-ups.
  • 20% will always have very mild rheumatoid arthritis.
  • 5% will develop severe disease with extensive disability.

Blood tests and x-rays will help your doctor assess how fast your arthritis is developing and what the potential outlook for your future is. This will also help your doctor to decide which form of treatment to recommend.

Most people can have periods of months or even years between flare-ups, when there’s little inflammation, although damage can still be caused in these periods. However, most people, especially if they receive appropriate treatment, will have relatively few symptoms and will be able to lead full lives.

People with rheumatoid arthritis have a slightly greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke. The risk is probably reduced by controlling the disease, for example with drug treatments. High cholesterol and smoking increase the risk, so it’s a very good idea to eat a balanced diet and stop smoking.

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The inflammatory arthritis pathway

A useful guide for every stage of your journey, from first noticing symptoms to receiving specialist care.