Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

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How is mixed connective tissue disease diagnosed?

Today, true mixed connective tissue disease is diagnosed when patients demonstrate the clinical features (exam findings) of overlap illnesses (as described above) and have high amounts of the antibodies ANA and anti-RNP in their blood. Mixed connective tissue disease patients do not typically have antibodies such as dsDNA and Scl70, which are particularly common in systemic lupus erythematosus and scleroderma respectively.

How is mixed connective tissue disease treated?

The treatment of mixed connective tissue disease is based on which features are causing symptoms and signs. The prognosis (outlook) varies accordingly. Therapies must be targeted for each of the organ systems affected. In general, treatment is often directed at suppressing the inflammation present in the tissues by using anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications. These medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), cortisone drugs/steroids (such as prednisone), antimalarial drugs (hydroxychloroquine), and cytotoxic drugs (such as methotrexate, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide). Organ damage, such as in the kidneys, can require additional treatments directed at high blood pressure, etc.

For the joint and muscle pains of mixed connective tissue disease, treatment options including NSAIDs, low-dose prednisone, hydroxychloroquine, and methotrexate can be helpful. Sometimes TNF blockers infliximab (Remicade), etanercept (Enbrel), or adalimumab (Humira) are considered for inflammatory arthritis. Physical therapy for certain joints is sometimes helpful. For pulmonary hypertension, medications that tend to open the arteries to the lungs are used along with blood-thinning drugs and even supplemental oxygen. For interstitial lung disease, prednisone and cyclophosphamide are considered. Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, such as captopril (Capoten) and enalapril (Vasotec), are used to prevent damage to the kidneys, especially if blood pressure is elevated. Esophagus irritation and heartburn can be prevented by elevating the head of the bed and can be relieved with omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid). Antacids can also be helpful. Constipation, cramping, and diarrhea are sometimes caused by bacteria that can be treated with tetracycline or erythromycin.

For Raynaud's phenomenon, patients are recommended to use hand- and body-warming techniques while protecting the fingers from injury. Nifedipine (Procardia), losartan (Cozaar, Hyzaar), and nitroglycerin cream are used to dilate the constricted blood vessels. Severe RP can lead to gangrene and the loss of digits. In rare cases of severe disease, nerve surgery called "sympathectomy" is sometimes considered. In order to prevent blood vessel spasming, the nerves that stimulate the constriction of the vessels (sympathetic nerves) are surgically interrupted. Usually, this is performed during an operation that is localized to the sides of the base of the fingers at the hand. Through small incisions the tiny nerves around the blood vessels are stripped away. This procedure is referred to as a digital sympathectomy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2015

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