Rheumatoid Arthritis Progression

If you suspect you have rheumatoid arthritis or have recently been diagnosed you will likely have concerns about how this disease will affect you. What is the normal rheumatoid arthritis progression? Will my symptoms get worse? How can I manage the disease?

These are all common questions asked by rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. The reality though is that each patient will experience a different progression of this disease. Because it is still unclear exactly what triggers rheumatoid arthritis and there are a number of factors, it can be difficult to predict an outcome.

Below is some general information about what to expect as well as the different stages of rheumatoid arthritis including the advanced condition known as progressive rheumatoid arthritis.

What to Expect

Rheumatoid arthritis induces many unpredictable symptoms that differ from patient to patient. Here is an overview of potential outcomes that can occur while living with rheumatoid arthritis:

• Symptoms may come and go over the course of the disease
• Intensity and severity of symptoms may change over time
• Symptoms may get better
• Symptoms may worsen
• Pain can be managed and long remission periods can be achieved
• Flare-ups can become more frequent or prolonged
• Symptoms can stay relatively consistent throughout the course of the disease

In some cases, joint inflammation may continue or worsen despite treatment. It may not necessarily lead to a full progressive state of rheumatoid arthritis, but it may become more difficult to maintain your mobility and range of motion.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Progression Factors

While it is impossible to know the exact progression of each patient, your physician can help you assess your specific case. The progression of your unique condition of rheumatoid arthritis will depend on many factors including the following:

• Whether or not you have a family history of the disease
• The age at which you were diagnosed
• What the potential triggers of the disease are as discussed with your physician
• Whether you have the presence of rheumatoid factor in your blood tests
• The stage at which your condition was diagnosed

Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are four distinct stages of rheumatoid arthritis progression each with their own treatment courses.

Stage 1: This is early stage rheumatoid arthritis. This stage involves initial inflammation in the joint capsule and swelling of synovial tissue. This induces the clear symptoms of joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Stage 2: In the moderate stage of rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation of synovial tissue becomes severe enough that it causes cartilage damage. In this stage, symptoms of loss of mobility and range of motion become more frequent.

Stage 3: Once the disease has progressed to stage three, it is considered severe rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation in the synovium is now destroying not only the cartilage of the joint but the bone as well. Potential symptoms of this stage include increased pain and swelling and a further decrease in mobility and even muscle strength. Physical deformities on the joint may start to develop as well.

Stage 4: In the end stage of rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammatory process ceases and joints stop functioning altogether. Pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of mobility are still the primary symptoms in this stage.

Early Detection and Diagnosis

As with most diseases, early detection and diagnosis are critical in being able to treat symptoms, manage pain, and slow progression. An early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis can help you and your team of physicians and specialists put together a treatment plan so that you can continue living a high quality of life.

Early on, you’ll want to consult a rheumatologist or rheumatoid arthritis specialist who can provide you with the treatment you need to prolong the disease’s progression. Generally, early diagnosis treatment is aggressive and targeted to properly manage the disease and prevent it from worsening.

If your particular condition of rheumatoid arthritis was diagnosed in the early stage and when symptoms first appeared, your chances of achieving longer periods of remission can increase drastically. That’s not to say you won’t experience flare-ups. Early diagnosis simply helps manage the disease and cannot guarantee the complete elimination of symptoms.

Progressive Rheumatoid Arthritis

Progressive rheumatoid arthritis is the condition that occurs when advancing through the disease stages. This advancing condition is characterized by more frequent states of inflammation and worsening chronic pain. Additional symptoms that never occurred before can also start to develop in patients who have progressive rheumatoid arthritis.

Progressive rheumatoid arthritis requires a deliberate treatment plan provided by a team of physicians and specialists. This plan should be tailored specifically to your individual symptoms and history of the disease.

What works for some patients may not work for you and it is largely dependent on the potential factors that triggered your rheumatoid arthritis, including genetic background.

Symptoms of Progressive Rheumatoid Arthritis

Here are some general warning signs and symptoms that you may have developed progressive rheumatoid arthritis:

• The “active” state of the disease is becoming more frequent
• Flare-ups are occurring regularly and may even last longer than they once did
• Pain and swelling are becoming more intense, spreading throughout other areas of your body
• Your diagnosis occurred early on, and so the disease has had a long time to develop
• You are beginning to develop rheumatoid nodules that you didn’t have before
• Your blood tests show high levels of Rheumatoid Factor (RF)

If you suspect that your rheumatoid arthritis has become progressive, consult your rheumatologist to determine the changes in your condition.

When to Seek Treatment

The following are general guidelines of when to seek treatment for your rheumatoid arthritis progression:

• When you first suspect symptoms
• Regularly during the first few years of diagnosis
• If you suspect you are experiencing progressive rheumatoid arthritis
• If you feel your condition is worsening in any way or new symptoms appear


While it is difficult to prevent the disease itself due to its unknown causes, rheumatoid arthritis progression can be managed. The ultimate goal is to stop symptoms from worsening and to prevent the disease from moving through its stages.

If you undergo targeted and aggressive treatment options early on, you are more likely to prevent the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Working closely with your physician to determine the specific stage of your condition will help put together a specific treatment plan for each stage.


View Sources Last Edited: August 3, 2016

Sources and Citations


Understanding RA Stages and Progression