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Mod Rheumatol. 2011 Apr;21(2):164-73. doi: 10.1007/s10165-010-0376-5. Epub 2010 Dec 7.

Small airway obstruction in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

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Department of Rheumatology, Clinical Research Center for Rheumatic Disease, NHO Kumamoto Saishunsou National Hospital, 2659 Suya, Kohshi, Kumamoto, 861-1196, Japan.


This work was intended to evaluate the prevalence of obstructive small-airway disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its association with clinical characteristics. Pulmonary function testing (PFT) and high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) were performed on 189 consecutive RA patients. Each case was diagnosed based on abnormal HRCT findings. We defined obstructive dysfunction of small airways as a forced expiratory flow from 25% to 75% of vital capacity (FEF(25-75)) value >1.96 residual standard deviation (RSD) below predicted values. We found 19 patients (10.1%) with an interstitial pneumonia (IP) pattern and 15 (7.9%) with a bronchiolitis pattern; the other 155 (82.0%) had no abnormal HRCT patterns. In patients with neither abnormal pattern, median values of percentage predicted for carbon monoxide diffusing capacity (DL(CO)) and ratio of DL(CO) to alveolar ventilation (DLco/VA) were within the normal range, but median FEF(25-75), forced expiratory flow at 25% of vital capacity (V(25)), and V(25)/height were <70% of predicted values. Forty-seven patients (30.3%) in this group had obstructive small-airway dysfunction. Multivariate logistic regression analysis indicated that this type of abnormality is strongly associated with respiratory symptoms [odds ratio (OR) 5.18; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.70-15.75; p = 0.012), smoking history (OR 2.78; 95% CI 1.10-6.99; p = 0.03), and disease duration >10 years (OR 2.86; 95% CI 1.27-6.48; p = 0.012). Parenchymal micronodules, bronchial-wall thickening, and bronchial dilatation on HRCT scans were also predictive factors for abnormal FEF(25-75), although these morphological changes were too limited for us to diagnose these patients with the bronchiolitis pattern. Obstructive dysfunction of small airways is apparently common among RA patients, even among those with neither the IP nor the bronchiolitis pattern on HRCT scans. Factors significantly associated with abnormal FEF(25-75) are respiratory symptoms, smoking history, and RA duration.

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