Autoimmune bullous dermatoses in the elderly: an update on pathophysiology, diagnosis and management

Drugs Aging. 2010 Jan 1;27(1):1-19. doi: 10.2165/11318600-000000000-00000.


Elderly individuals are susceptible to autoimmune bullous dermatoses (ABDs), which may be associated with high morbidity and mortality. ABDs result from an autoimmune response to components of the basement membrane zone at the dermal-epidermal junction or desmosomes. Bullous pemphigoid results from autoimmunity to hemidesmosomal proteins present in the basement membrane of stratified squamous epithelia. Patients present with tense blisters in flexural areas of the skin. Mild disease may be treated with potent topical corticosteroids, while extensive disease usually requires systemic corticosteroids or systemic immunosuppressive agents such as azathioprine. Mucosal pemphigoid affects one or more mucous membranes that are lined by stratified squamous epithelia. The two most commonly involved sites are the eye and the oral cavity. Lesions frequently result in scar formation that may cause blindness. Patients with severe disease or ocular involvement require aggressive therapy with corticosteroids and cyclophosphamide. Epidermolysis bullosa acquisita results from autoimmunity to type VII collagen in the anchoring fibrils of the basement membrane. Lesions may either arise on an inflammatory base or be non-inflammatory and result primarily from trauma. Treatment options include corticosteroids, dapsone, ciclosporin, methotrexate and plasmapheresis/immunoapheresis. Paraneoplastic pemphigus results from autoimmunity to multiple desmosomal antigens. The disorder is associated with neoplasms, especially leukaemia, lymphoma and thymoma. Patients present with stomatitis and polymorphous skin eruption. The disease may respond to successful treatment of the underlying neoplasm or may require immunosuppressive therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Aged
  • Autoimmune Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa Acquisita / diagnosis*
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa Acquisita / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Pemphigoid, Bullous / diagnosis
  • Pemphigoid, Bullous / therapy
  • Skin Diseases, Vesiculobullous / diagnosis*
  • Skin Diseases, Vesiculobullous / pathology
  • Skin Diseases, Vesiculobullous / therapy
  • Wounds and Injuries / drug therapy


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Immunosuppressive Agents