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Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis - What You Need to Know

The Progression of Rheumatoid Arthritis From Mild to Severe


Updated May 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

When assessing the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, doctors consider your symptoms, joint damage, and physical function. Symptoms of severe rheumatoid arthritis include a high level of joint pain, stiffness, or swelling of the affected joints. You may have trouble performing your usual daily activities. Joint deformities, especially hand deformity, are common with severe rheumatoid arthritis. The condition can also affect other organs in your body, leading to symptoms such as persistent fatigue.

While physical examinations, laboratory tests (including CRP and erythrocyte sedimentation rate), and imaging studies can help your doctor determine the severity of your condition, your own self-assessment is important too. For example, how long does morning stiffness last? Have symptoms, including your pain and fatigue levels, worsened? How is rheumatoid arthritis affecting your daily activities, family life, leisure time, and work?

The goal of treating rheumatoid arthritis is to manage symptoms, minimize damage, and prevent disability. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential. But even with an aggressive treatment plan, there is no arthritis cure, and there is no guarantee that the disease will not progress from mild to severe.

What can you do to stave off severe rheumatoid arthritis? Start by learning all you can about the disease. When symptoms first occur, consult a doctor or rheumatologist. Decide on a treatment plan with your doctor. Be compliant with the treatment plan. Be open and honest with your doctor about changes in your condition or any concerns that develop.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Quizzes

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Rheumatoid Arthritis - Basic Information

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Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Recognizing the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis will lead to an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. See your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms that may be related to arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Prognosis - How Soon Will Symptoms Worsen?
Questions about the prognosis of rheumatoid arthritis typically follow diagnosis. Patients want to know how bad the disease will get, how soon symptoms will worsen, and what their future holds.

Arthritis Hand Photo Gallery
Hand damage and deformity caused by arthritis can include nodules, swelling, stiffness, ulnar drift, contractures, and other problems. These photos of hands damaged by arthritis help explain the symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Hand Deformity: Is It Inevitable?
Rheumatoid arthritis hand deformity is a common symptom of the disease. Is it inevitable? Can it be prevented?

What Defines a Remission in Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Clinical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can lessen for a period of time. What defines a true remission in rheumatoid arthritis patients?

What Is Rheumatoid Factor?
Explanation of the significance of rheumatoid factor.

What Is A Rheumatoid Nodule?
Firm nodules beneath the skin may develop in about 25% of rheumatoid arthritis patients. See what they look like.

Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment - 2012 ACR Recommendations
The American College of Rheumatology has updated guidelines for using DMARDs and biologic drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Is There Advice for Patients With Long-term Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There is a lot of advice for newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis patients, mostly regarding early diagnosis and treatment. What advice is there for patients who have already lived with the disease for 5 or 10 years?


Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. Arthritis Foundation. Thirteenth Edition.

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