Today’s modern treatment options and medical technology means a much more positive prognosis for rheumatoid arthritis than in the past. Thus many patients with rheumatoid arthritis are able to maintain a healthy quality of life and continue with work, school, physical and social activities.
However, an accurate prognosis is very difficult for doctors to predict. This is because the course of rheumatoid arthritis varies greatly among patients. In addition, the fact the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unclear also adds to the challenge.
It is important to note that a lot of factors contribute to disease outcome with severity ranging from mild discomfort to very severe and debilitating disease.
Also, different technologies abound that assist in disease monitoring and in the provision of targeted treatments. Hence, if patients continue with personalized treatment plans the likelihood of symptom control increases tremendously.
Potential outcomes that can develop in the course of rheumatoid arthritis include frequent flare-ups, decreased life expectancy, and numerous prognostic possibilities. While some patients may experience chronic active states of disease while others may have long periods of remission in which symptoms are not active.
Some common prognosis possibilities for rheumatoid arthritis patients will include:
In addition to the joints, RA also has complications that manifest in various organs around the body. Possible complications that may be experienced outside of the regular joint-related symptoms include:
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.
Ultimately, patients with rheumatoid arthritis need constant medical care, hence seeing a primary care physician, as well as a rheumatologist on a regular basis, will help to alleviate symptoms and make monitoring for signs of progression easier and timely.
As previously stated, many factors can influence disease progression and prognosis. Some of these factors include:
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 as well. This does not include patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, who can have a different prognosis altogether.
Meanwhile, patients with healthy lifestyles like abstaining from 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 erosions and even deformity of the joints. They can also impact the health of other organs such as the lungs and heart which could be fatal.
Therefore, an early and aggressive personalized treatment plan will improve the outlook for most rheumatoid arthritis patients. The primary objective of treatment is to achieve remission and reduce pain. Remission occurs when inflammation or progressive joint damage is halted and ideally the patient will no longer experience chronic pain.
Several imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasound, can help doctors detect the degree of inflammation and joint deterioration in patients. While these don’t conclusively give a prognosis, they assist in monitoring symptoms and adjusting treatments along the way to ensure the best possible outcome.
Despite the unpredictability of rheumatoid arthritis progression, patients can ensure a positive outlook by doing the following:
All of these methods 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 in some cases. While surgery is a viable option, the rates of surgical joint replacements in rheumatoid arthritis patients are declining. This is largely due to the massive improvements in other treatment options, and early detection rates in modern times.