relapsing polychondritis

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Relapsing Polychondritis



Relapsing polychondritis is a disease characterized by autoimmune-like episodic or progressive inflammation of cartilage and other connective tissue, such as the nose, ears, throat, joints, kidneys, and heart.


Cartilage is a tough, flexible tissue that turns into bone in many places in the body. Bones all start out as cartilage in the fetus. Consequently, children have more cartilage than adults. Cartilage persists in adults in the linings of joints, the ears, the nose, the airway and the ribs near the breast bone. All these sites are attacked by relapsing polychondritis, which usually occurs equally in middle-aged males and females. It is frequently diagnosed along with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and other connective tissue diseases.

Causes and symptoms

The most common first symptom of relapsing polychondritis is pain and swelling of the external ear. Usually, both ears turn red or purple and are tender to the touch. The swelling can extend into the ear canal and beyond, causing ear infections, hearing loss, balance disturbances with vertigo and vomiting, and eventually a droopy ear. The nose is often afflicted as well and can deteriorate into a flattened nose bridge called saddle nose. Inflammation of the eye occurs less frequently, but can lead to blindness.
As relapsing polychondritis advances, it causes more dangerous symptoms such as deterioration of the cartilage that holds the windpipe open. Progressive disease can destroy the integrity of the airway and compromise breathing. Destruction of the rib cartilage can collapse the chest, again hindering breathing. Joints everywhere are involved in episodes of arthritis, with pain and swelling. Other tissues besides cartilage are also involved, leading to a variety of problems with the skin and other tissues. Occasionally, the aorta or heart valves are damaged.
The disease may occur in episodes with complete remission between, or it may smolder along for years, causing progressive destruction.


A characteristic array of symptoms and physical findings will yield a diagnosis of relapsing polychondritis. Laboratory tests are sometime helpful. Biopsies of the affected cartilage may confirm the diagnosis. Further diagnostic tests are done to confirm other associated conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. It is important to evaluate the airway, although only 10% of patients will die from airway complications.


Mild inflammations can be treated with aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. Corticosteroids (most often prednisone) are usually prescribed for more advanced conditions and do improve the disease. They may have to be continued over long periods of time, in which case their usage must be closely watched to avoid complications. Immune suppression with cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, cyclosporine, or dapsone is reserved for more aggressive cases. A collapsed chest or airway may require surgical support, and a heart valve or aorta may need repair or replacing.

Key terms

Aorta — The biggest artery in the body, receiving blood directly from the heart.
Connective tissue — Several types of tissue that hold the body's parts together-tendons, ligaments, fascia, and cartilage.
Inflammation — The body's immune reaction to presumed foreign substances like germs. Inflammation is characterized by increased blood supply and activation of defense mechanisms. It produces redness, swelling, heat, and pain.


There is no known cure for relapsing polychondritis. It can only be combated with each onset of inflammation and deterioration of cartilaginous tissue. As the disease progresses over a period of years, the mortality rate increases. At five years duration, relapsing polychondritis has a 30% mortality rate.



Gilliland, Bruce C. "Relapsing Polychondritis and Other Arthritides." In Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, edited by Anthony S. Fauci, et al. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.


inflammation of many cartilages of the body.
chronic atrophic polychondritis (polychondritis chro´nica atro´phicans) (relapsing polychondritis) an acquired disease of unknown origin, chiefly involving various cartilages and showing both chronicity and a tendency to recurrence; it is marked by inflammatory and degenerative lesions of various cartilaginous structures.

re·lap·sing pol·y·chon·dri·tis

a degenerative and inflammatory disease of cartilage producing arthritis, collapse of the pinna, the cartilaginous portion of the nose, and the tracheobronchial tree; death may occur from chronic infection or suffocation because of loss of stability in the tracheobronchial tree; of autosomal genetic transmission.

relapsing polychondritis

A rare condition characterised by inflammation and cartilaginous degeneration, beginning about age 40.

Clinical findings
Fever, vasculitis, arthropathy.
3+ of following symptoms, in descending frequency: auricular chondritis with external ear drooping, non-erosive arthritis, nasal chondritis with saddle nose deformity, upper respiratory obstruction, audiovestibular symptoms, cardiovascular disease—e.g., aortic valve insufficiency.
74% 5-year, 55% 10-year survival.

relapsing polychondritis

Dermatology An uncommon condition characterized by inflammation and cartilaginous degeneration, beginning about age 40 Clinical Fever, vasculitis, arthropathy Diagnosis 3+ of following Sx–in descending frequency: auricular chondritis with ear drooping, non-erosive arthritis, nasal chondritis with saddle nose deformity, upper respiratory obstruction, audiovestibular Sx, cardiovascular disease–eg, aortic valve insufficiency Prognosis 74% 5–yr, 55% 10–yr survival

re·lap·sing pol·y·chon·dri·tis

(rē-lap'sing pol'ē-kon-drī'tis)
A hereditary degenerative disease of cartilage producing a bizarre form of arthritis, with collapse of the ears, the cartilaginous portion of the nose, and the tracheobronchial tree; death may occur from chronic infection or suffocation because of loss of stability in the tracheobronchial tree.
Synonym(s): Meyenburg disease.


H. von, Swiss pathologist, 1877–.
Meyenburg complex - clusters of small bile ducts occurring in polycystic livers, separate from the portal areas.
Meyenburg disease - a degenerative disease of cartilage. Synonym(s): Meyenburg-Altherr-Uehlinger syndrome; relapsing polychondritis; von Meyenburg disease
Meyenburg-Altherr-Uehlinger syndrome - Synonym(s): Meyenburg disease
von Meyenburg disease - Synonym(s): Meyenburg disease
References in periodicals archive ?
A red and tender ear can raise a differential diagnosis that includes erysipelas, relapsing polychondritis, and auricular perichondritis.
Tracheitis may occur as an idiopathic entity or secondary to several distinct disease processes, including infection, malignancy, and systemic autoimmune or inflammatory diseases such as amyloidosis, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), and relapsing polychondritis (RP).
in hw sions on the Rive Thb The team members were raising money for three charities: Relapsing Polychondritis UK, Alzheimers UK, and Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Then Daniel's GP suggested it was an autoimmune disorder and recommended the couple see a consultant at a private hospital in Cardiff who was able to diagnose relapsing polychondritis.
Abbreviations RP: Relapsing polychondritis MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging ED: Emergency department VP: Ventriculoperitoneal.
Relapsing polychondritis (RP) is classified as a rare disease by the National Organization for Rare Disorders, with an incidence of 3.5 per 1,000,000 and has a paucity of research elucidating a clear etiology [1].
and Girasoli et al., can be found in patients with Wegener's granulomatosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Cogan's syndrome, relapsing polychondritis, polyarteritis nodosa, Sjogren's syndrome, myasthenia gravis, Behcet's disease, Takayasu's arteritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune conditions.
Relapsing polychondritis (RP) is a rare autoimmune and inflammatory disease, particularly characterized by recurrent inflammation of the hyaline cartilage.
In this report we describe a young male presenting with features of relapsing polychondritis (RPC), a rare autoimmune disease.
Relapsing polychondritis (RP) is a rare episodic and progressive inflammatory disease of cartilaginous and proteoglycan rich structures.
When the lesions are present on the ear or nose, as in the case of this patient, relapsing polychondritis also may be considered.
Relapsing polychondritis (RP) is an immune-mediated condition involving cartilaginous structures and other tissues throughout the body.