Rheumatoid Arthritis Facts and Statistics

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease that affects each patient differently. People from all ethnic backgrounds are at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. It is the third most common type of arthritis behind osteoarthritis and gout.

Below are some rheumatoid arthritis facts and statistics provided by ongoing disease research.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Facts and Statistics

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease affecting over 1.3 million Americans and as much as 1% of the worldwide population. The specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known, and there is no known cure for the disease.

Researchers do know, however, that rheumatoid arthritis is the result of an autoimmune disorder. It is one of the most common autoimmune disorders – more common than psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are triggered when a person’s antibodies attack the synovial joint fluid, causing chronic inflammation.

Women are up to three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men are. Women are also more likely to develop the disease at a younger age than men are. Rheumatoid arthritis generally begins to affect people between the ages of 30 and 60 years old. The average person doesn’t develop symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis until they reach their 60’s.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk Factors

There are four categories of potential risk factors associated with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. These rheumatoid arthritis risk factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental risk factors
  • Hormones
  • Lifestyle risk factors


Those with a first-degree family member diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis are at roughly four times greater risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis themselves as compared to the general population. While this is a notable increase in risk factor, it’s not enough to conclusively state that rheumatoid arthritis is hereditary. There are many patients who develop rheumatoid arthritis without any genetic predisposition to it.


It has been proposed that exposure to environmental risks could trigger the disease. Pollution, chemicals, secondhand smoke, or even traumatic events could be enough to generate an immune response and trigger rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.


Due to the staggering proportion of women who develop rheumatoid arthritis, some experts feel that there is a strong link between female hormonal changes and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. As levels of pregnancy hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decrease in women with age, the hormonal shift could be a potential disease trigger.


Smoking is the most strongly associated risk factor when it comes to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in patients. A history of smoking is said to increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by as much 2.4%. The risk factor of smoking is most strongly associated with seropositive rheumatoid arthritis patients – those who test positive for anti-CCP.

Facts and Statistics About Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis has a very specific set of clinical symptoms that indicate the onset of the disease. The most common initial clinical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Joint swelling and redness
  • Symptoms affecting multiple joints (four or more joints) including the hands and fingers
  • Symmetrical symptoms affecting both the left and right sides of the body
  • Morning stiffness lasting longer than 30 minutes
  • Symptoms lasting longer than six consecutive months

Doctors will perform a physical examination as well as imaging tests in order to consider all possible patient symptoms. Doctors will also look for additional symptoms such as:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Illness and malaise
  • Depression

There are four main stages of rheumatoid arthritis progression beginning with the onset of clinical symptoms to the end stage, which can be reached if appropriate treatment is not applied.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Facts and Statistics about Diagnosis

In order to reach a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, doctors look at different criteria. Doctors must take into consideration the following:

  • Clinical symptoms observed through physical examination
  • Family and medical history
  • Blood test results for rheumatoid factor and anti-CCP antibodies as well as inflammation levels
  • Imaging tests detecting bone erosion and joint inflammation levels

Seropositive vs. Seronegative Type Rheumatoid Arthritis

As many as 80% of rheumatoid arthritis patients test positive for an antibody known as rheumatoid factor. Another 60% to 70% of rheumatoid arthritis patient are estimated to also be seropositive, meaning they test positive for the antibody called anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP). This is one of two main types of rheumatoid arthritis.

This means that as many as 40% of patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis do not test positive for either antibody. In this case, the patient is diagnosed with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.

Life Expectancy Statistics

In general, rheumatoid arthritis patients are thought to have a shorter life expectancy by as much as 10 to 15 years. On the other hand, many patients continue to live with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis well into their 80’s or 90’s.

Rheumatoid arthritis fatalities are the result of medical complications that develop in addition to the clinical disease symptoms. Over half of rheumatoid arthritis patient deaths were the result of heart disease and cardiovascular-related fatalities, brought on by rheumatoid arthritis complications.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications

Many rheumatoid arthritis patients develop other medical complications in addition to the clinical disease symptoms. Some of the most commonly reported complications include:

  • Anemia (low blood cell count)
  • Respiratory issues
  • Eye inflammation (Sjogren’s Syndrome)
  • Extra-articular symptoms such as nodules on the hands, elbows, feet, eyes, lungs, and other organs

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

It is estimated that as many as 300,000 children in the United States suffer from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects children up to 17 years old. Symptoms may start as early as two years old.

Juvenile arthritis symptoms can persist into adulthood and change over time. In many cases, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis symptoms disappear and do not return in adulthood.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment Facts and Statistics

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be treated through a combination of the following:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Biologic response modifiers
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Healthy diet and regular exercise
  • Joint replacement surgery

An individual rheumatoid arthritis patient may pay up to $20,000 annually in treatment costs. Treatment that begins as early as possible is more effective at managing symptoms and reducing pain.