Objectives: To assess the pleuropulmonary changes in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA), using high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT).
Methods: Forty-three non-smoking patients with early RA were included. The disease duration was<1 year, without previous treatment. Disease activity was assessed using the 28-joint indices score (DAS28). Hand and wrist X-rays were evaluated using Larsen's criteria. Pulmonary functional tests (PFTs) were performed in 32 patients. The patients and 18 non-smokers healthy individuals were assessed by plain chest X-ray (CXR) and HRCT of the lungs.
Results: HRCT revealed air trapping in 69% (25/36), bronchiectasis in 58% (25/43), bronchial wall thickening in 52% (22/43) and ground glass opacities (GGOs) in 35% (15/43) of the patients. Pleural thickening and effusion were observed in 11% (5/43). CXR was abnormal in one patient revealing a single pulmonary nodule. GGOs were the only HRCT sign observed exclusively in RA patients. All the other abnormalities were depicted in the control group at the same frequency as in the patients. However, the extent (as expressed by the HRCT score) of air trapping, bronchiectasis and bronchial wall thickening was significantly greater in the patients than in the control group (p<0.05). The PFTs were within normal values. DAS28, PFTs, and the Larsen score did not show any significant correlation with either each HRCT sign score separately or the total score.
Conclusions: Lung abnormalities are frequently observed in patients with early RA on HRCT, even when CXR and PFTs are normal. Limited areas of GGOs were the abnormalities depicted exclusively in patients.