Introduction: Thalidomide is the second line treatment of chronic lupus erythematosus. The efficacy of this treatment, the minimal effective doses and tolerance are poorly documented in the literature.
Patients and methods: We present the data of a single-center retrospective studied among 18 patients with chronic lupus erythematosus, treated with thalidomide from 1998 to 2003. Inclusion criteria were: the presence of clinical lesions evoking the disease, confirmed by histological examination and direct immunofluorescence and treatment with thalidomide for more than 2 months.
Results: Mean age on diagnosis was of 35.8 years. Thalidomide had been initiated a mean of 10.6 years after diagnosis of chronic lupus erythematosus. In 13 out of 18 patients, thalidomide had been prescribed because of failure with prior treatments. Fifteen patients were improved by thalidomide (83.3 p. 100), with 11 (61 p. 100) complete and 4 (22 p. 100) partial remissions. Two (11 p. 100) patients were stabilized and treatment failed in one. The mean initial dose was of 100 mg/d (50-150), and maintenance dose was of around 50 mg/d (56 mg/d). The mean follow-up with thalidomide was of 19.4 months. Only one withdrawal due to side effects was reported. The most frequent side effects were: asthenia (33 p. 100), paresthesia (22 p. 100) and weight gain (16.6 p. 100). No side effects were reported in 10 out of 18 patients.
Discussion: This study confirms the efficacy of low dose thalidomide in the treatment of chronic lupus erythematosus. In our experience, tolerance to this treatment is good, the most frequent side effect was asthenia, but usually mild. No significant peripheral neuropathy was noted. The fear of side effects, notably neurological, should not delay initiation of thalidomide in the case of failure with current treatments.