Can people really die from arthritis of the neck? I heard that on a report somewhere. I have rheumatoid arthritis. How dangerous is it?

Changes can occur in the structure and function of the cervical spine as a result of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Joint degeneration can lead to instability. Pressure on the spinal cord as it travels through the spinal canal in this area can cause significant problems.

In fact, a condition called myelopathy can result in disability and/or death. Myelopathy describes a condition of damage to the spinal cord from any cause (including RA). Surgery to fuse the spine is often needed to avoid such serious problems.

Not everyone with RA has myelopathy or needs a neck fusion. However, it is a potential problem. You may want to ask your rheumatologist or primary care physician about the need for X-rays or other more advanced imaging.

If you aren't having any neck problems now, a baseline study may not be a bad idea. This gives you an idea of any changes that are occurring later and how quickly they are developing.

Reference: 

Masahiko Miyata, MD, et al. Rheumatoid Arthritis As a Risk Factor for a Narrow C-2 Pedicle: 3D Analysis of the C-2 Pedicle Screw Trajectory. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. July 2008. Vol. 9. No. 1. Pp. 17-21.

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