Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with rheumatic diseases, such as connective-tissue diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic vasculitis. Some patients with ILD secondary to rheumatic disease (RD-ILD) experience acute exacerbations, with sudden ILD progression and high mortality during or immediately after the exacerbation, and a very low 1-year survival rate. In the ILD subtype idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), an acute exacerbation is defined as acute worsening or development of dyspnoea associated with new bilateral ground-glass opacities and/or consolidations at high-resolution CT, superimposed on a background pattern consistent with fibrosing ILD. However, acute exacerbation in RD-ILD (AE-RD-ILD) currently has no specific definition. The aetiology and pathogenesis of AE-RD-ILD remain unclear, but distinct triggers might include infection, mechanical stress, microaspiration and DMARD treatment. At this time, no effective evidence-based therapeutic strategies for AE-RD-ILD are available. In clinical practice, AE-RD-ILD is often empirically treated with high-dose systemic steroids and antibiotics, with or without immunosuppressive drugs. In this Review, we summarize the clinical features, diagnosis, management and prognosis of AE-RD-ILD, enabling the similarities and differences with acute exacerbation in IPF to be critically assessed.
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