Objective: Infectious brain lesions (IBLs) are life-threatening in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of IBL in SLE patients and the clinical characteristics of SLE patients with IBL.
Methods: Medical charts of 15 consecutive SLE patients with IBL admitted to Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH) from January 1995 to October 2010 were reviewed systematically. A total of 150 cases were randomly selected as controls from 4115 SLE inpatients without IBL in PUMCH during the same period.
Results: The prevalence of IBL in SLE patients was 0.4%. Significant differences were observed between SLE patients with and without IBL in the following manifestations (p < 0.05): arthritis/musculoskeletal involvement (66.7% vs. 32.0%), C-reactive protein (CRP) elevation (84.6% vs. 28.0%), anti-dsDNA antibody positivity (13.3% vs. 42.9%), and elevated SLE Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) score (> 5) (13.3% vs. 71.3%). Fever was the most common manifestation (80%), followed by headache and focal neurological signs (73.3%). Twelve patients presented with infections in other sites, including pulmonary infection (66.7%) and meningitis (40.0%). Enhanced cranial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed point-enhancing or ring-enhancing lesions in all patients evaluated (12/12, 100%). Mycobacterium tuberculosis was the most common pathogen (10 cases, 66.7%). After administration of antibiotics targeting the pathogens, 11 patients (73.3%) recovered.
Conclusions: IBL is not common in SLE patients. In stable SLE patients with fever, focal neurological signs, and CRP elevation, IBL should be suspected. Enhanced cranial MRI and a thorough check-up should be performed in a timely manner. It is very important to identify the pathogens and initiate treatment as early as possible.