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Can J Anaesth. 2002 Aug-Sep;49(7):729-32.

Cricoarytenoid arthritis: a cause of acute upper airway obstruction in rheumatoid arthritis.

[Article in English, French]

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Department of Anesthesia, Queen Elizabeth Health Centre, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.



To report acute upper airway obstruction due to cricoarytenoid arthritis, a well known but uncommon complication of rheumatoid arthritis.


We report the case of a 70-yr-old female scheduled for a colostomy who had been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years. Preoperative history and physical examination revealed no cardiopulmonary compromise. Anesthesia was induced while an assistant immobilized the cervical spine and an atraumatic intubation was performed. Surgery was uneventful. Muscle paralysis was reversed, demonstrated by normalization of the train-of-four response, and the patient was extubated awake. Shortly postextubation, the patient developed inspiratory stridor, which disappeared after a second dose of neostigmine. The patient was transported to the postanesthesia care unit. Just prior to arrival the patient once again developed inspiratory stridor, became distressed, and oxygen saturation decreased. Direct laryngoscopy followed by a nasal fibreoptic examination of the larynx was performed. Cricoarytenoid arthritis secondary to rheumatoid arthritis with airway compromise was diagnosed. An uneventful awake tracheostomy was performed. The patient was discharged on day ten with a colostomy and a tracheostomy in place. One month postdischarge the patient's trachea was decannulated. On follow-up, a normal voice and mobile cords were observed.


Cricoarytenoid arthritis is an infrequent complication of rheumatoid arthritis. A thorough history and physical examination are necessary to recognize signs and symptoms of cricoarytenoid arthritis. Prompt recognition of airway obstruction due to cricoarytenoid arthritis is essential for appropriate management.

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