Respiratory involvement in relapsing polychondritis. Clinical, functional, endoscopic, and radiographic evaluations

Medicine (Baltimore). 1998 May;77(3):168-76. doi: 10.1097/00005792-199805000-00002.


Although respiratory involvement occurs in 50% of patients with relapsing polychondritis (RP) and augurs a poor prognosis, few previous studies have provided complete descriptions of respiratory tract involvement. For this reason, we investigated the respective role of clinical, functional, endoscopic, and radiographic (computed tomography [CT]) examinations in 9 consecutive patients with RP and lower respiratory tract localization. All exhibited cough, dyspnea, and wheezing. Eight had a nonreversible obstructive pattern with a marked decrease of the maximal flow ratio at 75% and 25% of vital capacity. Rotman functional criteria were evaluated to differentiate upper from lower respiratory tract involvement; they were consistent with the results of other examinations in 4/9 cases. Endoscopic examination showed moderate to severe inflammation in 8/9 patients; tracheal stenosis was present in 6/9 patients, bronchial stenosis in 4/9 patients, and tracheal collapse in 7 cases. CT showed tracheal stenosis in 8/9 patients (diffuse, 7; localized, 1) and bronchial stenosis in 6/9 patients. Tracheobronchial wall thickening and/or calcifications were observed in 7 cases. Clinical symptoms are of poor specificity for defining respiratory involvement precisely, although degree of dyspnea is correlated to the decrease in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1). Functional criteria were helpful in evaluating the obstructive ventilatory defect but did not differentiate, in most cases, the respective part of lower and upper respiratory involvement when using Rotman criteria. Compared to CT findings, endoscopic examination failed to identify tracheal and bronchial stenosis and tracheal wall alterations at an early stage of the disease. In our series CT appears to be a reliable method to identify tracheal and bronchial involvement and can be repeated safely during the course of the disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bronchiectasis / diagnosis
  • Bronchiectasis / etiology*
  • Bronchoscopy / methods
  • Dyspnea / diagnosis
  • Dyspnea / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polychondritis, Relapsing / complications*
  • Polychondritis, Relapsing / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / etiology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Tracheal Stenosis / diagnosis
  • Tracheal Stenosis / etiology*