Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease: Comprehensive Review

Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2023 May;25(5):98-106. doi: 10.1007/s11926-023-01099-5. Epub 2023 Mar 8.


Purpose of review: Undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) is characterized by the presence of clinical symptoms of a systemic autoimmune disease in addition to laboratory evidence of autoimmunity with the patients not fulfilling any of the widely used classification criteria for classic autoimmune diseases. The presence of UCTD as a separate entity versus an early stage of such diseases as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or scleroderma has long been debated. Given the uncertainty regarding this condition, we performed a systematic review on the topic.

Recent findings: UCTD can be subcategorized as evolving (eUCTD) or stable UCTD (sUCTD) based on its evolution towards a definable autoimmune syndrome. Analyzing the data from six UCTD cohorts published in the literature, we found that 28% of patients have an evolving course with the majority developing SLE or rheumatoid arthritis within 5-6 years of the UCTD diagnosis. From the remaining patients, 18% do achieve remission. Published treatment regimens were similar to other mild autoimmune diseases with low-dose prednisone, hydroxychloroquine, and NSAID. One-third of patients did need immune suppressive medications. Importantly, the reported outcomes were excellent with survival rates of more than 90% over 10 years. It has to be noted though that as data on patient related outcomes are not available to date, the exact impact of this condition on quality of life is unclear. UCTD is a mild autoimmune condition with generally good outcomes. There is still great uncertainty though regarding diagnosis and management. Going forward, consistent classification criteria are needed to advance UCTD research and eventually provide authoritative guidance on the management of the condition.

Keywords: Autoantibodies; Criteria; Early SLE; Undifferentiated connective tissue disease.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid*
  • Autoimmune Diseases*
  • Connective Tissue Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / diagnosis
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / drug therapy
  • Quality of Life
  • Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Diseases* / drug therapy