During development of rheumatoid arthritis, intermetatarsal bursitis may occur before clinical joint swelling: a large imaging study in patients with clinically suspect arthralgia

Bastiaan T. van Dijk, Fenne Wouters, Elise van Mulligen, Monique Reijnierse, Annette H. M. van der Helm-van Mil

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Objectives: Intermetatarsal bursitis (IMB) represents juxta-articular synovial inflammation of the intermetatarsal bursae. Recent MRI studies identified IMB as feature of early RA, but whether IMB already occurs in the pre-arthritic phase is unknown. We performed a large MRI study in clinically suspect arthralgia (CSA) to assess the occurrence and prognostic value of IMB. Methods: A total of 577 consecutive CSA patients underwent contrast-enhanced MRI of the forefoot, metacarpophalangeal joints and wrist. MRIs were evaluated for subclinical synovitis/tenosynovitis/osteitis in line with the RA MRI scoring system (summed as RAMRIS inflammation) and for IMB. IMB was considered present if uncommon in the general population at the same location (i.e. size scored above the 95th percentile in age-matched symptom-free controls). The relation of IMB with other MRI-detected subclinical inflammation (synovitis/tenosynovitis/osteitis) was studied. Cox-regression assessed the association with clinical arthritis development during median 25 months follow-up. ACPA stratification was performed. Results: At presentation with CSA, 23% had IMB. IMB was more frequent in ACPA-positive than ACPA-negative CSA (47% vs 19%, P < 0.001). Patients with IMB were more likely to also have subclinical synovitis [OR 3.4 (95% CI 1.8, 6.5)] and tenosynovitis [5.9(2.8, 12.6)]. IMB conferred higher risk of developing arthritis [HR 1.6(1.0-2.7) adjusted for other subclinical inflammation]. IMB-presence predicted arthritis development in ACPA-positive CSA [adjusted HR 2.2(1.0-4.7)], but not in ACPA-negative CSA-patients [0.8(0.4-1.7)]. Conclusion: Approximately a quarter of CSA patients have IMB, which is frequently accompanied by subclinical synovitis and tenosynovitis. IMB precedes development of clinical arthritis, particularly in ACPA-positive CSA. These results reinforce the notion that juxta-articular synovial inflammation is involved in the earliest phases of RA development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2805-2814
Number of pages10
JournalRheumatology (Oxford, England)
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes

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