We describe the clinical characteristics and actuarial survival of a consecutive cohort of 41 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and clinical pericarditis who were seen at the Mayo Clinic between 1970 and 1987 and followed up until death or through 1987. The survivors were followed up for a median of 5.1 years. Approximately three-fourths of our patients had acute pericarditis, the remainder having recurrent acute pericarditis, chronic pericarditis with effusion, or chronic constrictive pericarditis. Most patients had symmetrical joint swelling, morning stiffness, subcutaneous nodules, rheumatoid factor, and classic radiographic changes of rheumatoid arthritis. Common extra-articular features included fatigue, loss of weight, and fever. Dyspnea or orthopnea, typical pericardial pain, peripheral edema, tachycardia, tachypnea, a diminished mean blood pressure, a pericardial friction rub, jugular venous distension, rales, radiographic evidence of cardiomegaly and pleural effusions, and abnormal echocardiograms were the most common cardiac manifestations. An elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate and anemia were other common laboratory findings. Our cohort demonstrated decreased survival in comparison with an age- and sex-matched North Central white population (from the upper midwestern United States), especially during the first year after diagnosis. Increasing age, the presence of other heart disease, an increasing total number of other extra-articular manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis, jugular venous distention, and a lower mean blood pressure were associated with decreased survival.