In a six-month, randomized, double-blind study at 14 centers, auranofin (3 mg twice daily) was compared with placebo in the treatment of patients with classic or definite rheumatoid arthritis. All patients had unremitting disease for at least the previous six months and at least three months of therapy with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs, oral steroids, and analgesics were allowed throughout the trial. Efficacy was analyzed in 154 patients who received auranofin and 149 who received placebo. To reflect an expanded view of outcome assessment, the measures used included some 20 nontraditional measures of functional performance, pain, global impression, and utility (worth or value) in addition to five standard clinical measures of rheumatoid synovitis (e.g., number of tender joints). The nontraditional measures were mainly in the form of structured questionnaires administered by trained interviewers. To minimize the statistical problem of multiple comparisons, most of the measures were grouped into four composites--clinical (standard measures), functional, global, and pain--and the treatment effect for each composite was tested at the 0.0125 level of significance. Auranofin was superior to placebo in the clinical (p = 0.003), functional (p = 0.001), and global (p = 0.007) composites and trended similarly in the pain composite (p = 0.021). Individual measures within the composites consistently favored auranofin. Other measures, not part of the composites, also favored auranofin, including a patient utility measure designed for this study, the PUMS (p = 0.002). Results confirm the hypothesis that the favorable effect of auranofin on clinical synovitis is accompanied by improvements across a range of outcomes relevant to the patient's quality of life.