A 28-year-old woman, employed as a leather factory worker, noted asymptomatic, well-delimited plaques on both knees, 6 years ago. The plaques were violaceous with a smooth surface. One appeared over a post-traumatic scar from childhood (Fig. 1). Two years later, she began to complain of symptoms suggestive of polyarthritis, first of the small joints of the hands (proximal interphalanges) and then of the larger joints (wrists, elbows, and knees). She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and began treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for 1 month without any change. Deflazacort, 12 mg/day, and hydroxychloroquine, 400 mg/day, were administered for 3 months, with improvement of her articular complaints, but not her skin lesions.
One year later, she complained of dysphonia, which remitted spontaneously after some weeks.
After one additional year, she noted papules, with similar characteristics to the plaques, on the elbows, and two well-delimited orange-to-brown plaques on the forehead (Fig. 2).
During the fifth year of the disease, she was referred for the first time to a dermatologist, who biopsied one of the knee lesions. The histologic result was compatible with “sarcoid granuloma.” At that time, she presented with skin lesions as her only complaint. Sarcoidosis was suspected based on a chest X-ray, which revealed hilar lymphadenopathy and diffuse accentuation of the interstitium.
In November 2000, she suddenly developed fever (40 °C), cough with hemoptysis, dysphonia, and subcutaneous nodules on the palmar surface of the fingers of both hands that were painless, well-delimited, 5 mm in diameter, and firm (Fig. 3). She reported a weight loss of 12 kg in the previous 3 months. Pulmonary condensation was found on auscultation, and she had palpable hepatomegaly. Peripheral lymphadenopathy was not present.
Laboratory investigations revealed normochromic, normocytic anemia (hemoglobin, 7.7 g/dL), iron deficit, a white blood cell count of 16,000/µL with neutrophilia, an erythrocyte sedimentation rate of 130 mm/h, elevation of liver enzymes, a slight increase in angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) level (72 U/L), hypergammaglobulinemia (IgG, 3350 mg/dL), antinuclear antibody (ANA) of 1 : 320, and a slight increase in CD4 and decrease in CD8 lymphocytes with normal cellular morphology in blood.
Renal function, urine sediment, urine and serum calcium, complement (C4), dsDNA, antimitochondrial antibody, direct and indirect Coombs test, antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA), tuberculin skin tests, viral markers of hepatitis B, C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), electrocardiogram (ECG), ophthalmic examinations, and culture for infectious agents in blood and sputum were all normal or negative.
Computed tomography (CT) scan showed an infiltrate in the upper right pulmonary lobule with a central cavity and bilateral hilar lymphadenopathy (Fig. 4). Homogeneous hepatosplenomegaly was present. The bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) showed a slight lymphocytic increase predominantly of CD8 cells and hemosiderosis. Stains for infectious agents, including acid-fast bacillus, fungi, Mycoplasma, and Legionella, were negative. Three biopsies from the forehead, elbows, and knees showed well-formed noncaseating epithelioid cell granulomas with giant cells of the Langhans type in the dermis, suggestive of sarcoidosis (Figs 5 and 6). A fourth biopsy from a finger nodule demonstrated inflammatory infiltration of the dermis and necrosis with cellular debris. Vasculitis was not seen (Fig. 7).
The patient was treated with a broad-spectrum empirical antimicrobial (levofloxacin, 500 mg daily intravenously) over 12 days, with prompt improvement in her symptoms and remission of the forehead and finger lesions.
Nevertheless, on the first evaluation after hospitalization, the CT scan showed persistence of the pulmonary cavity (Fig. 8). A repeat ANCA determination was positive (cytoplasmic pattern, c-ANCA) at 1 : 640 by indirect immunofluorescence (IIF). Antiproteinase-3 antibody was demonstrated at 78 by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
She underwent an open lung biopsy which revealed intra-alveolar hemorrhage and scanty noncaseating epithelioid cell granulomas of the sarcoidosis type in the peripheral blood vessels without vasculitis.
A diagnosis of Wegener's granulomatosis was made and she began prednisolone (1 mg/kg/day) and oral cyclophosphamide (2 mg/kg/day).
One year later, she is asymptomatic, the skin lesions have completely remitted, c-ANCA is negative, and the CT scan shows partial regression of the pulmonary cavity.