Relapsing polychondritis, an uncommon, chronic, multisystem disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of inflammation of cartilaginous tissues, can be life-threatening, debilitating, and difficult to diagnose. This review is based on the authors' experience with 36 patients with relapsing polychondritis who were followed from 1980 to 1997, 30 patients located elsewhere who completed a detailed questionnaire and interview, and a perusal of English-language textbooks and papers located by a systematic search of the MEDLINE database. Relapsing polychondritis can present in a highly ambiguous fashion; therefore, in the authors' series, the mean delay from the time medical attention was sought because of symptom onset until diagnosis was 2.9 years. Although prednisone was the main form of treatment, methotrexate seemed to be of additional value. Survival was much more favorable than previously thought. Greater awareness of relapsing polychondritis would probably lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes.