Objectives: To review the most recent information on the incidence, clinical course, pathology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of rheumatoid vasculitis (RV), including the still scanty data on the use of biologics.
Methods: PubMed and MEDLINE databases (1950-2006) were searched for the key words "vasculitis" and "rheumatoid arthritis"; and "rheumatoid arthritis" and "extra-articular manifestations." All relevant articles in English and French were reviewed. Additional words used in follow-up research include "anti-TNF," "rituximab," "IL-1 receptor antagonists," and "CTLA-4 Ig," all in conjunction with "vasculitis." Pertinent secondary references were also retrieved.
Results: RV is an inflammatory condition of the small- and medium-sized vessels that affects a subset of patients with established rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (approximately 1 to approximately 5%). It has a vast array of clinical manifestations with a predilection for the skin (peripheral gangrene, deep cutaneous ulcers) and the peripheral nervous system (mononeuritis multiplex). Because of the lack of specific signs and symptoms, the diagnosis relies on the exclusion of other causes of similar lesions (diabetes, atherosclerosis, drug reactions, infection, neoplasias) and, ideally, on the histopathological demonstration of necrotizing vasculitis. Despite the availability of a host of promising new drugs for the treatment of RA, no clinical trials have tested their efficacy in RV; therefore, its management remains largely empirical.
Conclusions: Although RV has apparently been decreasing over the last 2 decades, possibly as a consequence of the more energetic approach to the management of RA currently used, it remains an important complication of RA that needs to be promptly recognized and treated.