Relapsing Polychondritis (RPC) is a rare episodic and progressive multi-system inflammatory rheumatic disease involving all types of cartilage and connective tissue, which can be life-threatening, debilitating and can be difficult to diagnose.
- Typically, relapsing polychondritis causes sudden pain in the inflamed tissue at the onset of the disease. Common symptoms are pain, redness, swelling, and tenderness in one or both ears, the nose, throat, joints and/or eyes. Fever, fatigue, and weight loss often develop.
- Inflammation of the ears and nose can cause deformity (saddle nose deformity and floppy ears) from weakened cartilage. Impaired hearing, balance, and nausea can be caused by inner ear inflammation.
- Inflammation of the windpipe, or trachea, can lead to throat pain, hoarseness, and breathing difficulty. This is a potentially dangerous area of inflammation in patients with relapsing polychondritis which can require assisted breathing methods when severe.
- Joint inflammation (arthritis) can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints, including of the hands, knees, ankles, wrists, and feet.
- Eye inflammation can be mild or severe and can damage vision. Cataracts can be caused by the inflammation or from the cortisone used to treat relapsing polychondritis.
- Other tissues that can develop inflammation include the aorta (which can lead to aneurysm or aortic valve weakness), tissues in or around the heart (myocarditis and pericarditis), the skin (vasculitis), and the nerves from the brain (cranial nerve palsies).