Seventeen patients suffering from early rheumatoid disease (mean duration, 3.5 years) and treated with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs alone had evidence of systemic bone changes. Transiliac bone biopsies, compared with age and gender-matched controls, demonstrated reduced bone volume and increased eroded surface. In addition, the metacarpal indices were reduced in the rheumatoid patients and correlated with the iliac crest bone volume. These changes, found distal from sites of synovitis, suggest that in this group of rheumatoid patients there were systemic changes of bone metabolism. No biochemical abnormalities of calcium homeostasis were found. Collectively, present observations may be a reflection of the rheumatoid disease process itself.