Rheumatoid Vasculitis: Experience With 13 Patients and Review of the Literature

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Rheumatoid vasculitis is an uncommon but potentially catastrophic complication of RA. There are few current extensive experiences and no consensus regarding the clinical, laboratory, histologic features, and management or prognosis of rheumatoid vasculitis. We therefore reviewed selected observations in 13 patients followed over the past decade and compared them with patients reported and with results of a survey of North American Rheumatologists. Our patients were seven men and six women (age, 33 to 70 years) who had had active RA for 4 to 36 years. They exhibited sensory neuropathy, mononeuritis multiplex, Felty syndrome, cutaneous lesions, leg ulcers, gangrene, anemia, leukocytosis, eosinophilia, high titers of RF, hypocomplementemia, and CICs or cryoglobulinemia approximately as frequently as other reported patients with rheumatoid vasculitis, but they displayed constitutional symptoms, subcutaneous nodules, ischemic changes, and proteinuria rather less consistently than in other series. These observations were not necessarily as expected by survey respondents. We, as in other series and suggested by survey respondents, tended to select penicillamine or cytotoxic drugs (or plasmapheresis) for patients with mononeuritis, gangrene, or leg ulcers, and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, antimalarials, gold, or penicillamine for sensory neuropathy or digital lesions. Four patients died, two deteriorated, and seven were stable or improved, a finding that was also similar to the experiences of others. Rheumatoid vasculitis is an uncommon, potentially catastrophic syndrome with varying clinicopathologic features that have different prognostic implications and should be managed individually.