Connective Tissue Disease-Associated Interstitial Lung Disease: A Focused Review

J Intensive Care Med. 2015 Oct;30(7):392-400. doi: 10.1177/0885066613516579. Epub 2013 Dec 25.


The connective tissue diseases (CTDs) are a group of systemic disorders characterized by autoimmunity and autoimmune-mediated organ damage. The lung is a frequent target and all components of the respiratory system are at risk. Interstitial lung disease (ILD) represents a broad group of diffuse parenchymal lung injury patterns characterized by varying degrees of inflammation and fibrosis, is a common manifestation of CTD particularly common in systemic sclerosis, polymyositis/dermatomyositis, and rheumatoid arthritis, and is a leading cause of significant morbidity and mortality. The lung injury patterns of CTD-associated ILD (CTD-ILD) mirror those of idiopathic interstitial pneumonia and may arise at any time during the course of the CTD or may be the first manifestation of CTD. Patients with CTD that present with respiratory failure often present significant diagnostic dilemmas. Thorough and comprehensive assessments to exclude respiratory *infection, acute interstitial pneumonia, medication toxicity, pulmonary embolism, cardiac dysfunction, and diffuse alveolar hemorrhage are the fundamental components for the evaluation of such patients. Furthermore, patients with CTD are also at risk of acute exacerbations of underlying ILD. Acute exacerbations are manifested by subacute respiratory deterioration with worsening hypoxemia in the setting of new radiographic abnormalities. The prognosis of patients with CTD having respiratory failure is often quite poor, highlighting the need for prompt and thorough clinical assessments to determine the underlying etiology and implementation of appropriate therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: acute exacerbation; connective tissue disease; interstitial lung disease; respiratory failure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Connective Tissue Diseases / complications*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / complications*
  • Prognosis
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology