Relapsing polychondritis is a rare chronic disorder that is marked by inflammation of cartilages. This disease is also known by other names like Meyenburg Altherr Uehlinger syndrome, chronic atrophic polychondritis and Von Meyenburg syndrome. It is categorized under the rheumatic disease and it occurs along with arthritis or lupus disorders. The word chondritis indicates inflammation of the cartilages.
Relapsing polychondritis occurs at any age and is prominent in later stage of adulthood. However this is a rare disorder affecting only 3 persons in one million people. It is marked by recurrent episodes and hence the name relapses. The disease can affect cartilages of any type and tissues of joints, ears, nose and trachea. Treatment is oriented for controlling the symptoms and is a chronic disorder.
Exact cause of relapsing polychondritis is not known. But it is believed to be of autoimmune disorder. The body’s immune system starts attacking healthy tissues and cartilages causing destruction and inflammation. Autoimmune generated antibodies will destroy glycosaminoglycans which is a vital part of the connective tissues found on the cartilages.
There will be sharp sudden pain on the cartilages or tissues. Some of the common signs of relapsing polychondritis are intense pain, swelling of joints, redness and swelling. The area becomes tender to touch and often it involves the tissues of nose, ears, throat and even eyes. People will experience moderate fever, weakness and sudden weight loss when these symptoms develop.
Swelling of nose and ears can cause deformity on the face due to weakened cartilages. It would impair normal hearing capacity due to the inflammation developed on the inner ear and tinnitus. In case the windpipe is inflamed it may cause shortness of breath and throat pain along with hoarseness in voice.
If the joints of hands and knees are swollen it would cause intense pain and stiffness. It can affect joints of any part like hands, legs, ankles and even feet. For some people it can affect your eyes causing partial loss of vision due to cataract scleritis and uveitis. In rare cases relapsing polychondritis can affect the aorta causing aortic valve weakness and the tissues surrounding the heart (myocardial) are affected. Skin infection can cause aphthous ulcer and nodules on the entire skin. This chronic disease will often infect 2 or 3 organs at the same time.
The doctor will diagnose the illness on seeing the symptoms. He would take out a small part of the affected tissue by biopsy for identifying the intensity of inflammation. Often it will affect ears, nose and throat tissues causing inflammation. No concrete testing procedure is available for detecting the disease since it is only a rare disorder.
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Corticosteroids are prescribed for suppressing the chemicals produced by immune system. Based on severity of symptoms, anti-inflammatory drugs are given for relieving the pain. Drugs like Methotrexate (non-steroid) and prednisone (corticosteroids) are given.
You can take over the counter antihistamines like ibuprofen and naprosyn to reduce the swelling and intense pain. For those affected with eyes and throat, high dosages of steroids are to be prescribed. For some cases your doctor may give Cytoxan, dapsone, cyclosporine and remicade in combination with other drugs. In rare cases, relapsing polychondritis would affect the windpipe blocking the airways causing death. Depending on the cartilages the disease has infected treatment has to be given.