Androgen status and the role played by androgens in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in female patients are a matter of debate. In the present study serum testosterone (T), DHEAS, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and cortisol levels were determined in 55 RA women, both in pre- and post-menopausal (M) status, and in a group of healthy subjects. Patients were divided into two groups according to disease activity and a correlation analysis of hormonal levels against serum IL1beta levels was performed. No significant differences were found in serum T levels between RA patients and controls, both in preM (1.38 +/- 0.4 vs 1.35 +/- 0.3 nmol/l; p = ns) and in postM status (1.21 +/- 0.2 vs 1.10 +/- 0.2 nmol/l; p = ns). Serum SHBG levels were lower in RA patients than in control subjects, both in pre and in postM status. DHEAS levels were significantly lower in preM RA patients than in controls (2.34 +/- 1.2 vs 5.93 +/- 1.6 mu mol/l; p < 0.001) while cortisol levels were significantly higher in preM active RA patients than in controls (466.2 +/- 30.3 vs 411 +/- 66.2 nmol/l; p = 0.02). IL1beta levels were significantly higher in RA patients than in controls both in pre- and postM subjects (70 +/- 33.8 vs 23.1 +/- 2.9 and 92 +/- 27.4 vs 31.9 +/- 3.1 fmol/l, p < 0.001, respectively). Although androgen status could play a role in the pathogenesis of RA, at present it is not possible to exclude the influence of RA itself on sex hormone profile.