OBJECTIVE--To assess the usefulness of high resolution computed tomography (HRCT) of the lungs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with and without respiratory symptoms. PATIENTS AND METHODS--Eighty eight RA patients with a mean duration of disease 12 (SD 8) years were evaluated. Eleven patients were excluded because of previous exposure to silica. The 77 remaining patients formed two groups according to the absence (group I, n = 38) or the presence (group II, n = 39) of chronic respiratory symptoms. A control group consisted of 51 non-smoking, healthy patients. RESULTS--The most frequent abnormalities observed in the 77 RA patients were bronchiectasis or bronchiolectasis (n = 23, 30%), pulmonary nodules (n = 17, 22%), subpleural micronodules or pseudoplaques (n = 13, 17%), ground glass opacities (n = 11, 14%), and honeycombing (n = 8, 10%). Bronchiectasis or bronchiolectasis (p = 0.012), rounded opacities (p = 0.016), ground glass attenuation (p = 0.004), and honeycombing (p = 0.002) were found more often in RA group II (with respiratory symptoms) than in group I (no respiratory symptoms). Non-linear septal opacities were more frequent in group I than in the control group, but other HRCT findings did not differ statistically significantly between group I and the control group. CONCLUSION--Bronchiectasis may be a characteristic lung change in RA patients. Abnormalities on HRCT are less frequently observed in the absence of respiratory symptoms than in the presence of such symptoms (29% versus 69%).
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