The aim of this analysis was to investigate the impact of the postponement of DMARD therapy on the functional outcome of rheumatoid arthritis after 10 years of disease. 321 individuals with a disease duration of at least ten years were selected out of a cohort of more than 1800 patients. Two groups were analysed separately: patients who started DMARD therapy within the first year of their disease, and patients who received their first DMARD not earlier than five years after the onset of RA. The Keitel functional index was determined in every patient after 10 years of RA. After 10 years of disease, the swollen joint count and the ESR had decreased in both groups to a comparable degree. However, patients with early treatment performed significantly better in the Keitel test compared to the group with delayed therapy. Although patients with seropositive RA or rheumatoid nodules had a worse outcome in general, the benefit of early treatment was also significant in these subgroups.