Physical, psychological, and social features were assessed with standardized methods in 84 early RA patients followed prospectively for 2 years. During this time disease activity decreased, and disability evaluated by HAQ remained small. Psychological distress measured by SCL-90 (Symptom Check List) was in general not very pronounced and fairly stable over time. A high pain level at baseline provided a 4 times higher risk for a high level of psychological distress after 2 years. The prevalence of early retirement was 37% at the end of the study. Physical demanding work and a high initial HAQ score were the best predictors of work disability, increasing the risk of not working 10.7 and 5.5 times, respectively. At least 28% of patients had lower annual income compared to the year before disease onset. The ability to do shopping, home work, leisure time activities and social activities were negatively influenced by the disease in more than half of the patients. The social and economical consequences were thus considerable in the early stages of RA.