Objective: To evaluate the prevalence of cervical spine changes in patients with rheumatoid factor (RF) positive rheumatoid arthritis (RA) followed prospectively for 20 years.
Methods: An inception cohort of 103 patients with RF positive RA have been followed at the Rheumatism Foundation Hospital, Heinola. A total of 68 patients attended for the 20 year followup. An additional 28 patients died and 7 were not able to attend due to severe disease or old age. The plain cervical spine radiographs of 69 patients (68 and one received from another hospital) taken after 20 years of RA were evaluated.
Results: Anterior atlantoaxial subluxation was found in 16 cases (23%), while 18 patients (26%) had atlantoaxial impaction as judged by the Sakaguchi-Kauppi method. Subaxial subluxations and lateral atlantoaxial subluxations were found in 13 cases (19%) and 3/52 cases (6%), respectively, while 45 patients (65%) had subaxial disc space narrowing.
Conclusion: Cervical spine changes are common in patients with long lasting RA. They should be diagnosed and treated early to avoid complications. In our patient group no cervical spine surgery was performed, but at least 7 patients (10%) required further evaluation for possible surgery.