Functional impact of a spectrum of interstitial lung abnormalities in rheumatoid arthritis

Chest. 2014 Jul;146(1):41-50. doi: 10.1378/chest.13-1394.


Background: Approximately 10% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have interstitial lung disease (ILD), and one-third have subclinical ILD on chest CT scan. In this study, we aimed to further characterize functional decrements in a spectrum of RA-associated ILD.

Methods: All subjects were enrolled in the Brigham and Women's Hospital Rheumatoid Arthritis Sequential Study (BRASS). The presence of interstitial lung abnormalities (ILAs) on clinically indicated chest CT scans was determined using a previously validated sequential reading method. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to assess the association between degree of ILAs and physiologic, functional, and demographic variables of interest.

Results: Of 1,145 BRASS subjects, 91 subjects (8%) were included in this study. Twelve had radiologically severe ILAs, 34 had ILAs, and 38 had no ILAs on CT scan. Subjects with radiologically severe ILAs were older (P = .0037), had increased respiratory symptoms (cough, P = .027; dyspnea, P = .010), and more severe RA disease (rheumatoid factor, P = .018; total swollen joints, P = .046) compared with subjects with no ILAs. Participants also had a trend toward having an increased smoking history (P = .16) and having lower FVC % predicted (77% vs 94%, P = .097) and diffusion capacity of carbon monoxide % predicted (52% vs 77%, P = .068). Similar but attenuated increases in respiratory symptoms, functional decrements, and RA disease severity were observed in subjects with ILAs compared with those with no ILAs.

Conclusions: We have shown that patients with RA have varying degrees of ILAs that are associated with a spectrum of functional and physiologic decrements. Our findings suggest that improved risk stratification and detection of ILAs will provide a therapeutic window that could improve RA-ILD outcomes.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / complications
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods