Objective: To evaluate miniarthroscopy (MA) (needle arthroscopy) of involved joints in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the early detection and staging of synovitis and its application in visual guided synovial biopsies.
Methods: 1.0 and 1.9 mm (0 degree/30 degrees) arthroscopes were used in a 2 portal technique. MA performance was developed and evaluated first on hand cadavers (n = 20) and then transferred to metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints under local anesthesia conditions. Joints of 20 patients with RA with different disease activity and duration were scoped and rated according to scores adapted from arthroscopy of other joints.
Results: In 20/20 cases MA provided visualizing and magnification of intraarticular features of MCP joints in RA and allowed grading of synovial alterations, chondromalacia, and bony alterations. Synovial surface changes, thickness, and fibrosis were related to disease duration, as was damage to cartilage and bone. The degree of acute inflammatory reactions like vascularity and hyperemia varied independently of chronic changes; synovial proliferation was reflected to some extent by C-reactive protein. In 2 patients with early RA, synovitis criteria were found macroscopically and histologically. In 18/20 joints, biopsies were taken under visual control; in the other 2, progression of disease (Larsen score >3) limited arthroscopy to 1.0 scope imaging only. Sampling sizes were sufficient for histologic and molecular analysis.
Conclusion: The developed standardized procedure of MCP arthroscopy is minimally invasive, practicable, and well tolerated by patients, and may allow synovitis monitoring, staging, and biopsy in patients with early as well as chronic arthritis.