SANDESTIN, FLA. – Even when you know a patient’s serology and hear their symptoms and think you have a bead on their rheumatic disease, you might not. It’s vital to check the skin in patients with rheumatic disease to be sure the right disease is being treated and that they don’t actually have a more severe condition that might progress suddenly if left unchecked, said, assistant professor of dermatology at the annual Congress of Clinical Rheumatology.
In a session filled with pearls for rheumatologists on what to look for on their patients’ skin to help guide diagnosis and treatment, she told the story of a woman whom a rheumatologist colleague had correctly diagnosed with dermatomyositis. She was started on prednisone and mycophenolate mofetil, but her skin disease did not clear.
After examining her skin, Dr. Femia became immediately concerned.
“Despite prednisone, despite mycophenolate, here not only does she have Gottron’s papules, but she has erosions within her Gottron’s papules,” Dr. Femia said. The woman also had erosions within papules on her palms.
These were telltale signs of MDA5-associated dermatomyositis, which studies have found to be linked with interstitial lung disease (). Under her care, these patients ideally undergo lung monitoring every 3 months, Dr. Femia said.
“That is a form of dermatomyositis that you cannot miss,” she said.
The effects of discoid lupus are another reason to take special care in skin examination. Once the disease, which involves a scaling of the skin, is obvious, there can be permanent aesthetic effects that could have been avoided with earlier detection and treatment, Dr. Femia said.
Clinicians should also be on the lookout for volume loss, or contour change, in discoid lupus patients, because that’s a sign of lupus panniculitis, which involves deeper lesions mainly to fatty areas such as the cheeks or thighs. The disease can progress fast, with sudden, massive loss of body volume, so therapy should be escalated quickly, she said.
“We want to treat these patients aggressively in order to avoid this.”