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Fibrosing alveolitis in patients with rheumatoid arthritis as assessed by high resolution computed tomography, chest radiography, and pulmonary function tests
  1. J K Dawsona,
  2. H E Fewinsd,
  3. J Desmondb,
  4. M P Lyncha,
  5. D R Grahamc
  1. aDepartment of Rheumatology, St Helens and Knowsley Trust Hospitals, Liverpool, UK, bDepartment of Radiology, St Helens and Knowsley Trust Hospitals, cDepartment of Respiratory Medicine, St Helens and Knowsley Trust Hospitals, dDepartment of Radiology, Cardiothoracic Centre, Liverpool, UK
  1. Dr J K Dawson, Department of Rheumatology, Southport and Formby District General Hospital, Southport, Merseyside PR8 6PN, UKtwodocs{at}


BACKGROUND Fibrosing alveolitis (FA) is a common and serious complication of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Before the availability of high resolution computed tomographic (HRCT) scanning, it was difficult to diagnose accurately without recourse to biopsy. Prospective studies have reported a prevalence of interstitial lung disease (ILD) of 19–44%. The term ILD used by these authors encompasses a variety of appearances on HRCT scans. This prospective study used HRCT scanning to determine the true prevalence of FA in hospital outpatients with RA, and to study associated clinical characteristics.

METHODS One hundred and fifty consecutive patients with RA were selected from a hospital outpatient department, irrespective of the presence or absence of chest disease. All underwent a detailed clinical assessment, chest HRCT scanning, and conventional chest radiography within 4 weeks of full pulmonary function tests.

RESULTS Seventy percent of patients were current or reformed cigarette smokers. Twenty eight (19%) had FA, most frequently of reticular pattern, and 12 of this group (43%) also had emphysematous bullae. None of the previously suggested risk factors for developing FA were confirmed. Fifty four percent of patients with HRCT evidence of FA had bilateral basal chest crackles, 82% had a reduced carbon monoxide transfer factor (Tlco), 14% had restrictive pulmonary function tests, and 14% had bilateral chest radiographic signs of FA.

CONCLUSIONS HRCT evidence of FA was present in 19% of hospital outpatients with RA. Abnormalities on chest examination or on full pulmonary function tests, even without restrictive changes or chest radiographic abnormalities, should prompt physicians to request a chest HRCT scan when investigating dyspnoea in patients with RA.

  • fibrosing alveolitis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • high resolution computed tomography

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