Joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis is assessed radiologically. Previous studies have not examined in detail its long term progression. We evaluated the overall changes of peripheral joint damage radiologically in 50 rheumatoid patients followed up at one rheumatology centre for 10 years. All peripheral joints were scored in 12 groups with Larsen's standard films at 0 and 10 years. In 48 cases the total scored deteriorated (mean increase 13% maximum damage). There was no different pattern of progression in any of the patients, though seropositive patients had more initial damage and a greater rate of progress. The wrist and small joints of the feet were most affected initially. During the 10 years most progression occurred in the wrist, knee, and metacarpophalangeal joints. Progression occurred in both initially normal and abnormal joints. By 10 years only 16.5% joint groups showed no damage. Complete destruction was most common in the wrist, knee, and small joints of the feet. Damage to the hands and wrists have a god indication of overall changes at 0 and 10 years and also the increase in damage (correlation coefficients were from r = 0.74 to r = 0.85). These results show that specific joints are involved in different stages of the disease. Some joints are frequently involved and some less often. The hands and the wrists give a reasonable picture of the overall progression of damage.
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