Rheumatoid Arthritis Prognosis

Today’s treatment options and medical technology can lead to a much more positive rheumatoid arthritis prognosis than in the past. Many rheumatoid arthritis patients are able to maintain a healthy quality of life and continue with work, school, and physical and social activities.

However, a standard prognosis is very difficult for doctors to predict. Rheumatoid arthritis progression can vary greatly from patient to patient. The fact that we still don’t know what causes rheumatoid arthritis makes it challenging to determine an exact outcome.

There are different factors that contribute to the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and can lead to both a good and bad outlook. There are different technologies available to help monitor symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and provide targeted treatments.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be a debilitating disease that affects joints to the point where mobility becomes an issue. Provided patients continue with personalized treatment plans the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can remain under control.

Potential Outcomes for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients

There are some potential outcomes including complications that can develop in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Some patients may experience chronic active states of the disease with frequent flare-ups. Some other patients may be able to experience long periods of remission in which symptoms are not active. In general, rheumatoid arthritis patients are at an increased risk of a shorter life expectancy.

Some common prognosis possibilities for rheumatoid arthritis patients will include:

  • Continued joint inflammation that persists over time
  • Progressive joint deterioration affecting multiple joints
  • Continued decline in mobility and range of motion
  • General pain and stiffness that doesn’t improve

Depending on how bad the progression of the disease is, there are some possible complications patients may experience outside of the regular joint-related symptoms. These complications and side effects include:

  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis
  • Heart disease
  • Eye inflammation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anemia
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Increased risk of illness and infection
  • Cancer – especially lymphoma
  • Respiratory conditions caused by nodules, high blood pressure, and scarring of the lungs

If symptoms progress rapidly through the four main stages of rheumatoid arthritis the condition can turn into progressive rheumatoid arthritis. This means symptoms continue to worsen over time with no reversal.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients require consistent medical care. Seeing a primary care physician as well as a rheumatologist on a regular basis will help to keep symptoms in check and monitor the condition for any signs of progression.

Factors that Determine Rheumatoid Arthritis Prognosis

While there is no one set rheumatoid arthritis prognosis for each patient, there are many factors that can determine the outlook of the disease course.

Some of the factors that can affect the rheumatoid arthritis prognosis in patients include:

  • Seropositive (positive for rheumatoid factor or anti-CCP) or seronegative type rheumatoid arthritis
  • Patient’s age at diagnosis
  • How soon treatment began after symptoms appeared
  • Patient’s overall health including diet, exercise, and smoking habits
  • Whether or not complications have developed through the course of the disease
  • Patient’s personalized treatment plan
  • How the condition has been responding to treatment
  • How active the condition has been including the frequency of flare-ups and remission periods

As a rule of thumb, patients who are seropositive, meaning they’ve tested positive for rheumatoid factor and/or anti-CCP, may experience more severe and aggressive symptoms. Adult patients who are diagnosed at a younger age may also experience a more serious disease course. This doesn’t include patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, who can have a different prognosis altogether.

Patients who continue to maintain healthy lifestyles including not smoking can also manage their symptoms better. It is thought that there is a direct link between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in patients.

Over time, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can affect bone health and cause erosion and even deformity of joints. Symptoms can also impact the health of other organs such as the lungs and heart. This is a possible outcome for any rheumatoid arthritis patient.

As with any disease, early and aggressive treatment, as well as a continued and personalized treatment plan, will improve the outlook for rheumatoid arthritis patients. The primary objective of treatment is to achieve remission and reduce and manage pain. Remission occurs when inflammation is inactive and no signs of progressive joint damage continue. Ideally in remission, the patient will no longer experience chronic pain.

Imaging Tests Used in Prognosis

Imaging tests can help doctors detect levels of inflammation and joint deterioration in patients. While these don’t conclusively give a prognosis, they do help doctors monitor symptoms and adjust treatments along the way to ensure the best possible outcome.

Imaging tests like x-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds can be performed throughout the disease course to give doctors and patients a better idea of how the disease is progressing.

Ways to Improve Prognosis

While the rheumatoid arthritis disease course can be unpredictable, there are some ways to ensure a positive outlook for patients.

Here are some of the most highly recommended ways of improving the rheumatoid arthritis prognosis for patients

  • Maintain healthy lifestyle including diet
  • Quit smoking and other bad lifestyle habits like drugs and alcohol
  • Regular exercise including walking, cycling, and swimming
  • Physical and occupational therapy to help adapt daily routines to any mobility challenges
  • Adhering to a personalized medical treatment plan which can include taking DMARDs and other medications

All of these methods combined are aimed at improving or maintaining the patient’s quality of life, managing disease symptoms, reducing pain, and very importantly, establishing a positive outlook for the patient.

In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery to completely replace joints or to rebuild them. This can alleviate pain and improve mobility for some patients. While surgery is an option, the rates of surgical joint replacements in rheumatoid arthritis patients are declining. This is in large part due to the massive improvements in treatment, therapy options, and early detection rates that patients experience nowadays.