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Severe Upper Airway Obstruction From Cricoarytenoiditis as the Sole Presenting Manifestation of a Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Flare*

Anita Karim, MD; Shahid Ahmed, MD; Rina Siddiqui, MD; Galina S. Marder, MD; Joseph Mattana, MD
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*From the Long Island Jewish Medical Center (Drs. Karim, Ahmed, Marder, and Mattana), New Hyde Park, NY, the Long Island Campus for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY; and the Department of Pathology (Dr. Siddiqui), St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, New York, NY.

Correspondence to: Joseph Mattana, MD, Department of Medicine, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY 11040; e-mail: mattana@lij.edu



Chest. 2002;121(3):990-993. doi:10.1378/chest.121.3.990
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Upper airway obstruction due to laryngeal involvement is a known complication of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Laryngeal involvement typically accompanies inflammatory activity involving other sites and varies from mild mucosal inflammation to bilateral vocal cord immobility. Cricoarytenoid arthropathy is a rare cause of severe airway obstruction in patients with SLE and almost always occurs in the presence of other associated symptoms. Furthermore, in contrast to patients with rheumatoid arthritis, in whom chronic involvement of cricoarytenoid joints occurs more commonly and often requires surgical intervention, patients with SLE typically present with acute arthritis of cricoarytenoid joints and respond to corticosteroid therapy alone. We describe a patient with known SLE who presented with severe acute upper airway obstruction as the sole manifestation of active SLE after several years of quiescence. The laryngeal involvement progressed from mucosal inflammation to acute cricoarytenoiditis, despite the administration of high-dose corticosteroid therapy, necessitating emergent intubation and tracheostomy. This case illustrates the importance of considering SLE in the differential diagnosis of patients presenting with acute upper airway obstruction.

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