The authors’ objective was to evaluate the association of the Disease Activity Score (DAS) with cervical spine deformity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients during 10-year optimal treatment of systemic disease.
The authors evaluated radiological and 10-year follow-up (FU) data of the BeSt (BehandelStrategien) trial. In 272 RA patients, atlantoaxial subluxation (AAS), presence of vertical translocation (VT), and subaxial subluxation (SAS) were evaluated. The associations of these deformities with DAS, self-assessed health (determined with the Health Assessment Questionnaire [HAQ]), and erosions of the hands and feet (Sharp–Van der Heijde score) were studied.
After 10 years of FU, AAS (> 2 mm neutral position) was observed in 62 patients (23%), AAS (≥ 3 mm in flexion) in 24%, AAS (≥ 5 mm in flexion) in 7%, VT did not occur, and SAS was present in 60 patients (22%). In total, 135 patients (50%) were in remission (DAS < 1.6) at 10 years of FU. No association could be established between AAS and DAS. Patients with cervical spine deformity (AAS > 2 mm and/or SAS) at 10 years had a higher HAQ score at 10 years than patients without cervical spine deformity (HAQ scores of 0.65 and 0.51, respectively, p = 0.04; 95% CI –0.29 to 0.00).
Even though 50% of patients were in remission after 10 years and the BeSt trial was designed to optimize treatment, 40% of patients developed at least mild RA-associated cervical spine deformity and 7% developed significant AAS. This indicates that even in this era of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologicals, cervical deformity is prevalent among patients with RA and should not be neglected in patient treatment plans and information.