Pancreatitis, panniculitis, and polyarthritis

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2010 Apr;39(5):417-23. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2008.10.001. Epub 2008 Dec 13.


Background and objective: Lobular panniculitis, together with polyarthritis and intraosseous fat necrosis, may occasionally complicate pancreatic disease. This triad is known in the literature as the pancreatitis, panniculitis, and polyarthritis (PPP syndrome). We describe a case of the PPP syndrome and review the available literature to summarize the clinical characteristics of patients with this condition.

Methods: A patient with the PPP syndrome, with evidence of extensive intraosseous fat necrosis in the joints involved revealed by magnetic resonance imaging, is described and the relevant literature based on a PubMed search from 1970 to February 2008 is reviewed. The keywords used were pancreatitis or pancreatic disease, panniculitis, arthritis, and intraosseous fat necrosis.

Results: Including our case, 25 well-documented patients with the PPP syndrome have been reported. Our patient had few abdominal symptoms despite high serum levels of pancreatic enzymes. In our review of the literature, almost 2/3 of patients had absent or mild abdominal symptoms, leading to misdiagnosis. The delay in diagnosis and specific treatment of the underlying pancreatitis worsens the prognosis of this condition, which has a mortality rate as high as 24%. In nearly 45% of the patients, the arthritis follows a chronic course with a poor response to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids, and the rapid development of radiographic joint damage.

Conclusion: Certain forms of pancreatic disease can very occasionally cause arthritis and panniculitis. Although uncommon, physicians should be alert to the possible presence of this syndrome for 2 reasons: first, unrecognized pancreatic disease can be fatal if not treated promptly; second, to avoid inappropriate and risky therapy to improve joint symptoms.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis / diagnosis*
  • Arthritis / pathology
  • Arthritis / therapy
  • Arthrography
  • Fat Necrosis / diagnosis
  • Fat Necrosis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Joints / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreas / enzymology
  • Pancreatitis / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatitis / pathology
  • Pancreatitis / therapy
  • Panniculitis / diagnosis*
  • Panniculitis / pathology
  • Panniculitis / therapy
  • Syndrome
  • Treatment Outcome