The aim of this study was to evaluate differences in disease activity, disability, and medical treatment in consecutive patients with rheumatoid arthritis seen at the outpatient clinics in Malmö, in 1978 (n = 148) and 1995 (n = 164). The groups were similar with regard to age, gender, disease duration, and the proportion having had hip or knee replacement surgery. The patients in 1995 had lower values for CRP (p<0.001), Ritchie Articular Index (mean values: 5.5 vs. 9.9, p<0.001), and Steinbrocker functional class index (mean values: 1.96 vs. 2.16, p<0.001) than the 1978 group. The 1995 patient group was also more extensively treated with DMARD:s (68 vs. 51%, p<0.01) and glucocorticosteroids (23 vs. 12%, p<0.02) and had historically been treated with almost twice as many DMARD:s (2.7 vs. 1.5, p<0.001). Similar findings regarding disease activity and disability were made when restricting the analysis to subgroups of patients that were seropositive or had a shorter disease duration (< 5 yrs). The lower disease severity in the 1995 group may be secondary to a more active medical treatment, although other possibilities such as differences in selection and secular changes in disease severity unrelated to medication cannot be excluded.