The myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of common haematological disorders that increase in incidence with age. Case reports have suggested an arthritis associated with myelodysplasia. This comparative study reviews patients with myelodysplasia and patients with a myeloproliferative disorder (MPD) as the control group. To document the rheumatological manifestations in patients with MDS and to determine if there is an association between MDS and an inflammatory arthritis/vasculitis. Between July 1990 and July 1995 all patients with a known diagnosis of MDS and MPD attending the Haematology clinics of two teaching hospitals were reviewed. There were 87 MDS patients and 86 MPD patients identified. Twenty-six of the MDS patients and 28 of the MPD patients attended a clinical review by a single examiner. A history of joint symptoms, skin rashes, family and drug history was obtained. Physical examination and serology were routinely performed. The case notes of the remaining patients were reviewed by a single observer. Approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee at both hospitals. The two patient groups were matched for sex and age. There were equal numbers of patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and crystal arthritis in the two groups. The significant finding was the presence of a seronegative inflammatory arthritis in five patients in the MDS group. One patient had both a seronegative arthritis and a cutaneous leukocytoclastic vasculitis, and another a cutaneous leukocytoclastic vasculitis only. These rheumatic manifestations were not seen in the MPD group. Five of six patients were treated with prednisolone and responded impressively. The rheumatological symptoms preceded the diagnosis of MDS in two of the six cases. A seronegative arthritis is an associated finding in MDS. The arthritis can precede the development of the bone marrow disorder, and can be a guide to the diagnosis of this haematological disorder in elderly patients presenting with an inflammatory arthritis and cytopenias.

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