Objective: To describe neurologic and neurophysiologic (NP) outcome in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) followed prospectively and to determine predictors of change in NP status.
Methods: Clinical examination, laboratory and NP tests (brain stem auditory and visual evoked responses, peripheral nerve conduction studies) were performed in 18 unselected patients with SLE attending a general rheumatology clinic at enrollment into the study (baseline) and after a 2-year (mean) period of followup.
Results: Fifty percent (9/18) and 83% (15/18) of patients had neurological abnormalities at baseline and followup, respectively, the most common of which were headache and peripheral neuropathy. NP abnormalities were found in 56% (10/18) and 61% (11/18) of patients at baseline and followup. The most frequent abnormalities at both visits were of peripheral nerve conduction [33% (6/18) and 56% (10/18), respectively] and abnormalities of brainstem and/or visual evoked responses were found in 28% (5/18) and 22% (4/18) of patients at both visits. At baseline, vasculitis was significantly increased in patients with NP abnormalities (p = 0.04). NP status deteriorated between visits in 8 patients (44%), 6 of whom acquired peripheral abnormalities. Improvement in NP status was only noted in patients (2/18, 11%) who had NP abnormalities restricted to the central nervous system. Associations were seen between elevated dsDNA antibodies, vasculitis, and lymphopenia, and the risk of acquiring new NP abnormalities.
Conclusion: Patients with SLE had many neurological and NP abnormalities. NP deficits acquired were most often of peripheral nerve conduction. The ability to identify and classify clinical and subclinical neurological abnormalities in patients with SLE using NP tests may enhance our understanding and management of their neurological disease.