A person cannot die from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, RA can increase the risk of developing complications that may compromise a person’s overall health.
The condition can make a person more likely to develop health complications affecting the heart and lungs. The risk of complications depends on a range of factors, including age, disease progression, and a person’s lifestyle.
There is currently no cure for RA. However, effective treatment can slow down or stop the condition’s progression and help prevent complications. Treatments work best when a person starts them early in the disease progression.
In this article, we look at how RA may affect a person’s lifespan.
A person cannot die from RA. However, people with RA typically have a slightly reduced life expectancy. A study of almost 30,000 people with RA in Taiwan found that people with the condition have an average life expectancy reduction of
However, with the correct management, many people with RA can have the same life expectancy as those without it.
People with seropositive RA are at a greater risk of developing severe forms of RA than those with seronegative RA. They also have a higher risk of developing physical complications such as rheumatoid nodules and vasculitis.
Widespread inflammation from RA can increase a person’s risk of developing other life threatening complications.
RA causes inflammation throughout the body that, over time, can damage organ tissues. Having RA-related complications can affect a person’s lifespan.
Findings of a
People with RA may be more likely to develop infections because of reduced immune system function. Some medications prescribed to treat RA can also increase the risk of infection.
Other risk factors
It is difficult to predict how complications of RA may affect a person’s lifespan. This is because their risk and severity depend on a wide range of factors.
Factors can include:
- RA progression
- sex, with females being more likely to develop severe RA, though males with and without RA have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease
- age at diagnosis, with early diagnosis improving a person’s outlook
- lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking alcohol
Authors of a
Medications such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics can reduce the risk of RA-related complications.
As RA progresses, long lasting or frequently occurring inflammation in the joints can lead to permanent joint damage. This can affect the cervical spine joints in the neck and may cause nodules to form under the skin.
RA can also increase the risk of certain health conditions. The following sections discuss three main complications: heart disease, respiratory problems, and infection.
RA can cause inflammation and damage to the arteries, the heart muscles, or tissues surrounding the heart.
Pericarditis, which is inflammation of the pericardium (the pouch surrounding the heart) and fluid buildup in this pouch, may be significant factors. Pericarditis is the
While pericarditis is rarely a serious complication, any symptoms affecting the pericardium can be life threatening.
People with RA are also much more likely to develop atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of plaque in the arteries. In a person with RA, this plaque is more likely to be brittle and break away, leading to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Some RA medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids, may also increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Other medications, including JAK inhibitors, can increase the risk of other major cardiac events.
The Arthritis Foundation notes that RA increases the risk of several other heart complications, including:
- a nearly doubled risk of ischemic stroke
- a tripled risk of deep vein thrombosis, which refers to blood clots in the legs
- a more than quadrupled risk of a life threatening pulmonary embolism
According to the Arthritis Foundation, beyond complications that affect the joints, people with RA are most likely to experience complications involving the lungs.
RA increases the risk of respiratory issues, such as:
The rate of interstitial lung disease is eight times higher in people with RA. It occurs when excessive inflammation from an overactive immune system causes scarring in lung tissue. This can make breathing difficult or impossible, and a person could eventually need a lung transplant.
People with RA may also have a higher risk of developing blockages in the small airways of the lungs. Sometimes, RA medications can also cause adverse reactions in the lungs and lung lining.
People with autoimmune conditions such as RA are more susceptible to potentially serious and even fatal infections.
In people with RA, it is still unclear whether this susceptibility results from the condition or a side effect of RA medications, including biologics and steroids.
Other complications from RA include:
- inflammation in the eye
- type 2 diabetes
- rheumatoid vasculitis
- chronic kidney disease
Most people with RA can lead a full and active life. It is important for a person to follow a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risks of other illnesses associated with RA.
There is no cure for RA. Treatments aim to slow the progression of the condition and manage symptoms such as inflammation and pain.
An effective treatment plan can help prevent complications of RA. Some home remedies may also help manage RA symptoms and protect against complications.
Doctors may recommend that people with RA make changes to their diet and lifestyle, such as:
- quitting smoking
- doing regular low impact exercises, such as swimming and light muscle training
- eating a balanced diet and avoiding processed foods
- going to counseling or engaging with a support group
- taking plenty of time to rest throughout the day
People with RA should work directly with a doctor to create and adapt their treatment plan.
Regular appointments with a rheumatologist may also help. The specialist can monitor the progression of the disease and recommend any necessary treatment changes.
Complementary therapies — such as massage, meditation, and acupuncture — may also benefit people with the condition. Results can vary, so it may help to try a few different techniques.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet for RA can also help.
RA is a chronic condition with no known cure. People do not die from RA. However, it can lead to serious complications that can compromise overall health.
A person with RA may have a reduced life expectancy. However, the condition affects each person differently, and it can be difficult for doctors to predict an individual’s outlook.
Receiving treatment and making recommended lifestyle changes early on can help manage symptoms and improve a person’s outlook.
A person with RA should work directly with a doctor and rheumatologist to set and modify treatments. Doing this can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.