Inflammatory central nervous system involvement in rheumatoid arthritis

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 1989 May;18(4):258-66. doi: 10.1016/0049-0172(89)90047-4.


We describe a patient with seropositive rheumatoid arthritis who developed pachymeningitis resulting in optic atrophy. Clinical, histopathologic, and radiologic findings in 18 additional cases of inflammatory CNS disease associated with rheumatoid arthritis are reviewed. The three characteristic neuropathologic findings were rheumatoid nodules, pachymeningitis or leptomeningitis, and vasculitis. In most cases, more than one of these histopathologic processes were found. The typical host was middle-aged with long-standing severe nodular disease. However, contrary to previous reports, CNS disease occurred in a significant number of patients without active synovitis and extracranial vasculitis and nodules. Although no correlation between specific neurologic symptoms and neuropathology was noted, patients with CNS nodules tended to be asymptomatic more often than patients with vasculitis or meningitis. CSF analysis and computed axial tomography were helpful diagnostic tools, but diagnosis was ultimately made only by directed biopsy or at autopsy. Treatment with surgical decompression and/or corticosteroids has proved beneficial in several cases. Inflammatory CNS involvement in rheumatoid arthritis should be considered in any patient with neurologic symptoms in whom infectious and malignant processes are ruled out. An aggressive, invasive approach for diagnostic biopsies seems warranted.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnostic imaging
  • Craniotomy
  • Dura Mater / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meningitis / complications*
  • Meningitis, Aseptic / complications*
  • Meningitis, Aseptic / diagnostic imaging
  • Meningitis, Aseptic / surgery
  • Optic Atrophy / complications*
  • Optic Atrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Optic Atrophy / surgery
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed