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Systemic rheumatic diseases in the ICU


Patients with systemic rheumatic diseases may be admitted to the ICU because of pulmonary, renal or multiple organ dysfunction, caused by worsening of the rheumatic disease, infection or adverse effects of immunosuppressive drugs.


In a 3-year period, 14 patients (six males/eight females), 18 to 80 years old (average 56.78), with systemic rheumatic diseases were admitted in the ICU. Four of them had rheumatoid arthritis, one systemic lupus erythematosus, three dermatopolymyositis, one Sjogren's syndrome, two vasculitis, two systemic sclerosis and one psoriatic arthritis. Three of them were admitted to the ICU after major surgical operation, nine of them because of respiratory failure and the others because of coma and/or shock. The admission APACHE II score, chest X-ray, bronchial secretion cultures, and PaO2/FiO2 were recorded, as well as the bronchoalveolar lavage findings, when it was necessary, and the final outcome.


Nine patients were admitted because of acute respiratory failure: APACHE II score ranged from 17 to 28, X-ray showed diffuse alveolar infiltrates, PaO2/FiO2 ranged from 75 to 184, only two patients had positive cultures of bronchial secretions. Two patients were admitted after major surgical operation, one after necrotizing pancreatitis: APACHE II score ranged from 9 to 21, X-ray showed diffuse alveolar infiltrates with a cavity in one, PaO2/FiO2 >300, the bronchial secretions cultures were negative. One patient was admitted because of coma and one other because of shock: APACHE II score was 25 and 32, respectively, X-ray without any acute process, PaO2/FiO2 was >200 and none of them had positive cultures of bronchial secretions. Bronchoalveolar lavage was performed on six patients: on the second day from ICU admission in four patients, on the eighth day in one patient and on the 21st day in one patient. The total mortality rate was 50% (7/14).


Early bronchoalveolar lavage (during the first 48 hours from admission) could help in differential diagnosis between: exacerbation of rheumatic disease, infection, drug-induced respiratory failure, and alveolar hemorrhage.

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Vernikos, P., Topalis, T., Mega, A. et al. Systemic rheumatic diseases in the ICU. Crit Care 13 (Suppl 1), P462 (2009).

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  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  • Pancreatitis
  • Respiratory Failure
  • Rheumatic Disease
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage