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Background: CNS lupus is a serious but potentially treatable illness, which, though long recognized, may still present very difficult diagnostic challenges. We believed that further detailed study of patients with neuropsychiatric lupus would yield clinical information of practical value in improving both recognition and management of this difficult illness.

Methods: A retrospective case analysis of 41 patients with CNS systemic lupus erythematosus (CNS-SLE) was performed largely in the southwest of England and South Wales, covering the period 1990 to 2002.

Results: We found that primary neurologic presentation of SLE was not rare (10/41 patients), and there was an unexpected emergence of movement disorders (particularly parkinsonism and myoclonus) early in the disease course (4/10 patients). These showed a good response to immunosuppressants, but not to standard dopaminergic therapy. Typically, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or plasma viscosity was elevated during neurologic episodes while C-reactive protein levels were normal, and lupus-related serum antibody tests usually supportive. But, significantly, neither a normal ESR nor negative serology excluded CNS lupus. MR brain imaging is more commonly abnormal in patients with focal neurologic deficits and normal or shows wholly nonspecific change with more diffuse manifestations (cognitive decline, epilepsy). Abnormal CSF correlated significantly with poorer outcome. At the end of the period of study, 54% had no more than minor functional disability, the remainder having a severe or fatal outcome.

Conclusions: Our observations, particularly the emergence of non-choreic movement disorders, the blood, serum, and imaging findings, and the prognostic importance of CSF abnormalities, should help improve both the recognition of CNS systemic lupus erythematosus, perhaps particularly in elderly individuals, and its management.

(C)2007 American Academy of Neurology