Objective: To evaluate radiographs of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for progression and repair.
Methods: Radiographs of hands and forefeet over 3 years were evaluated at 34 joints based on the modified Larsen-index, the number of joints with erosions, the area of osseous defects including erosions and cysts, the radiologic activity of lesions and--in relation to preceding status--the number of joints with qualitative radiologic improvement or deterioration, respectively, not necessarily seen by the other methods.
Results: Counting of joints with erosions and assessment of the area of osseous defects yielded the most impressive results for disease progression with the number of eroded joints being the simplest method. Reparative phenomena included recortication, "filling in" and diminution in size of erosions and paraarticular cysts, newly developing demarcation of a previously indistinct articular outline, and the increase in trabecular structure in the vicinity of erosions. The evaluation of qualitative changes showed reparative phenomena with increasing frequency involving up to 9.3% of the joints during the 3rd year, compared with 7.1% of the deteriorating joints.
Conclusion: Progression in early RA can be quantitated easily by counting joint erosions. This method appears to be more sensitive than Larsen's approach. Repair can be shown early in the course of the disease (as early as the second 6-month observation period) by assessing both radiologic activity and qualitative changes, which are not necessarily apparent in the foregoing quantitative methods. Reparative phenomena associated with healing of erosions and cysts can be noted increasingly during continuous longterm observation. Evaluation for healing phenomena should be standardized and considered for inclusion in therapeutic trials of RA.