Rheumatoid Arthritis Life Expectancy

Rheumatoid arthritis life expectancy is difficult to determine. As a chronic disease, rheumatoid arthritis tends to be progressive. This means that it’s a long-term disease in which symptoms tend to get worse over time. As of now, doctors do not know what causes the disease although it is likely brought on by a combination of factors including genetics and environmental influences.

Because there isn’t one specific cause of the disease, there is also no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Today’s medical technology and research, however, provides a variety of treatment options, which can prolong the lives of patients.

All of these factors make it difficult to predict an exact rheumatoid arthritis life expectancy for patients. What research has found is that it isn’t the disease itself that reduces the life expectancy of patients. Life expectancy is shortened by the varying complications that develop as a result of the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis complications like respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, can compound over time and lead to a shortened lifespan and possibly eventual fatality.

What is the Outlook for Patients Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis research has come a long way over the past several decades. Previously, little was known about rheumatoid arthritis and the wide-ranging symptoms and complications that resulted from the disease.

Today, doctors understand that there are several conditions that may present themselves in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Patients who work closely with their rheumatologist can have these potential complications addressed early on, and pursue appropriate treatments to prevent symptoms from worsening.

Despite working proactively with medical specialists, there are cases where patients suffer from severe symptoms, which can lead to a shortened life expectancy.

What is the Average Rheumatoid Arthritis Life Expectancy?

Studies have found an association between rheumatoid arthritis and a shortened lifespan. This is different than saying that rheumatoid arthritis itself causes an early death. The symptoms that develop as a result of an aggressive rheumatoid arthritis disease course, are what put patients at a greater risk for a lower life expectancy.

An exact life expectancy is almost impossible to predict due to the varying nature of the disease. In general, patients can expect that the rheumatoid arthritis life expectancy could be shortened by roughly 10 years to as many as 15 years. This is dependent on a number of factors including sex, age, medical history, lifestyle, and overall levels of health and wellbeing.

Despite these study results, it’s also important to note that many rheumatoid arthritis patients live well into their 80’s and 90’s which is an average expected lifespan.

Difference in Life Expectancy Between Men and Women

Women are almost three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as men are. Symptoms seen in women are also typically more severe. The disease course for women can be more progressive and can potentially involve more complications.

Predicting a life expectancy for male patients with rheumatoid arthritis is difficult. While men typically don’t experience the same severity of symptoms as women do, men are also at risk for experiencing other complications as a result of the disease. This includes cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

What Determines Life Expectancy?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that makes patients more susceptible to developing other conditions. This can complicate the health of patients long-term. However, there are factors that can also improve a patient’s life expectancy by mitigating the complications experienced throughout the disease course.

Age at Diagnosis

Patients who are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at a young age generally experience more severe symptoms. This is thought to be in part because the duration of the disease is longer in that they live with the symptoms from an earlier age. This longer disease duration could potentially lead to a shortened life expectancy for some patients.


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are at greater risk of developing more severe health complications due to a weakened immune system and chronic symptoms.

Cancer rates are sometimes higher in rheumatoid arthritis patients, specifically lymphoma. Breathing problems also tend to present themselves in rheumatoid arthritis patients. This is due to many factors including ongoing inflammation in the lungs with leads to respiratory issues.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients are at a much greater risk of developing heart disease than the general population. It is estimated that as much as half of deaths in rheumatoid arthritis were caused by heart disease. The exact link between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease is unknown.


Quitting smoking is highly advised for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Research has shown a strong link between patients who smoke and the severity of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Smoking causes lung inflammation, which can possibly trigger rheumatoid arthritis antibodies and further aggravate the disease course.

With an already weakened immune system, rheumatoid arthritis patients should avoid smoking as it leads to chronic respiratory disorders. This has been found to be particularly true in seropositive patients.

Seropositive vs. Seronegative

One study showed that seropositive patients were three times more likely to die from respiratory complications than seronegative patients were. There is a proposed link between seropositive patients and more aggressive symptoms of lung nodules and lung scarring.

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Be Fatal?

Rheumatoid arthritis is not fatal itself. Fatality occurs due to complications associated with rheumatoid arthritis. In severe cases, patients can develop other medical conditions. The other medical conditions that patients need to be aware when it comes to shortened rheumatoid arthritis life expectancy include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Cancer – especially lymphoma
  • Respiratory conditions like Chronic Pulmonary Obstruction Disorder (COPD)
  • Infection

Off course, these are conditions that everyone should be cautious of. Keeping your body healthy through diet, exercise, and positive habits will go a long way to reducing the risk of fatality from any of these conditions.

How Does Treatment Improve Life Expectancy?

Early treatment greatly improves the prognosis of rheumatoid arthritis patients. If treatment begins before symptoms cause too much damage, patients can generally go on to live a better quality of life.

Ongoing treatment and monitoring can help rheumatologists provide the most appropriate and personalized care for their patients. Each patient will experience a different set of symptoms over their life. Doctors look for warning signs of other complications associated with rheumatoid arthritis and work to either prevent them or treat them as they develop.

The main goal of treatment is to reduce pain and improve quality of life. Many patients experience very effective treatment plans and continue to live their lives making appropriate lifestyle adjustments along the way.