OBJECTIVE AND METHODS A large number of studies from the field of "psychorheumatology" have investigated the relationship between critical life events and disease parameters with varying results. In the present study 48 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (mean age 57.8; range 32-78 years) were questioned about life events within the past two years using an "inventory for assessing life change events"-ILE (1). In contrast to previous studies, this inventory not only assesses the number of life events, but also captures the extent of subjectively experienced stress caused by these events. Since psychosocial factors such as social support and coping strategies influence subjectively experienced stress, these factors were taken into consideration for the definition of "life event". Furthermore, a series of objective medical parameters as well as the patient's and the physician's subjective impression of disease activity were assessed. RESULTS The results show that patients with RA in the earlier stages of the disease cannot be differentiated from severely affected patients in later stages on the basis of life event parameters. In addition, no differences in the life event data could be observed between patients with and those without subjectively experienced episodes of illness in the two years immediately preceding the study. CONCLUSION Our results suggest that the course of RA is influenced neither by the number of life events nor by the extent of stress caused by these life events. Therefore, the role of life events should not be overemphasized, at least as far as the disease parameters in RA is concerned.