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What Is My Prognosis With Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease, causing increased joint destruction and restricted movement over time. But the time course and total extent of this disability varies significantly between people and can be controlled by treatment with medicine.

Quality of life with rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis affects people in different ways, both in the symptoms they experience and in the severity of joint changes. Ultimately, rheumatoid arthritis most commonly leads to joint destruction and deformity if the disease process is not altered. The bone and cartilage are eroded, and the surface on which the joint movement occurs is destroyed, often leading to loss of range of motion. This process may occur over many years. But in certain people, it develops much more quickly.

Treatment can slow or even stop this process. But some people with rheumatoid arthritis have complete loss of function of a particular area, especially the hands. In rare cases, when other organs besides the joints are affected in rheumatoid arthritis, especially when inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis) is present, rheumatoid arthritis may be life-threatening.

People often ask whether rheumatoid arthritis can spontaneously go into remission, and unfortunately, for the vast majority, the answer is no. Very few people who have rheumatoid arthritis will experience complete remission without treatment. Much more commonly, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, often disabling condition when not treated early and continually.

It has been known for quite some time that the permanent destruction of joints begins within the first 2 years of disease in the majority of people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Untreated, this joint destruction leads to loss of motion, persistent pain and stiffness, and deformity. Eventually, this process often ends in "burnt-out" disease in which a person is left with deformed, immobile joints, but little remaining inflammation. Several treatment systems have produced good results in preventing new erosions. This has led many rheumatologists to believe that remission of rheumatoid arthritis can be induced just as it is in some cancers.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last Revised June 5, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 05, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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