Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) frequently features degeneration and instability of the cervical spine. Rarely, this degeneration manifests as symptoms of bow hunter syndrome (BHS), a dynamic cause of vertebrobasilar insufficiency.
The authors reviewed the literature for cases of RA associated with BHS and present a case of a man with erosive RA with intermittent syncopal episodes attributable to BHS as a result of severe extrinsic left atlantooccipital vertebral artery compression from RA-associated cranial settling. A 72-year-old man with RA-associated cervical spine disease who experienced gradual, progressive functional decline was referred to a neurosurgery clinic for evaluation. He also experienced intermittent syncopal events and vertiginous symptoms with position changes and head turning. Vascular imaging demonstrated severe left vertebral artery compression between the posterior arch of C1 and the occiput as a result of RA-associated cranial settling. He underwent left C1 hemilaminectomy and C1–4 posterior cervical fusion with subsequent resolution of his syncope and vertiginous symptoms.
This is an unusual case of BHS caused by cranial settling as a result of RA. RA-associated cervical spine disease may rarely present as symptoms of vascular insufficiency. Clinicians should consider the possibility, though rare, of cervical spine involvement in patients with RA experiencing symptoms consistent with vertebral basilar insufficiency.