OBJECTIVE: To be able to measure disability objectively in rheumatoid arthritis complicated by cervical myelopathy. METHODS: The responses to the Stanford health assessment questionnaire disability index were recorded from 250 consecutive patients (group 1) referred to our unit for spinal surgery. Using principal components analysis the questionnaire was reduced from 20 questions to 10 questions. In the second part of the study, the results of the questionnaire for those patients undergoing surgery from the original group of 250 patients were analysed with respect to outcome. RESULTS: The reduction in the number of questions results in no significant loss of information, reliability (internal consistency Cronbach's alpha = 0.968) or sensitivity. The new scale, the myelopathy disability index, measures only one dimension (Eigen value 6.97) and may be more finely tuned to the measurement of disability in these myelopathic patients. When administered to the 194 patients undergoing cervical spine (group 2) surgery the myelopathy disability index was an accurate predictor of neurological and functional outcome, as well as survival following surgery (P < 0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: The myelopathy disability index provides a much needed objective and reliable means of assessing disability in patients with rheumatoid involvement of the cervical spine and also in predicting outcome following surgical intervention. It also provides information for both the patient and surgeon alike, on what to realistically expect from surgery. Its adoption should facilitate comparisons between different forms of surgical intervention.
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