Undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) refers to a systemic autoimmune condition that does not meet the diagnostic criteria for any specific connective tissue disease (CTD).
Connective tissue connects, supports, binds, or separates other tissues or organs throughout the body. It consists of a variety of proteins, such as collagen and elastin. The term connective tissue disease (CTD) describes a condition that impacts the function or structure of connective tissue.
There are many different types of CTD, each with its own diagnostic criteria. If the features of a CTD do not fulfill the criteria for any one disease, a health expert may refer to it as a UCTD.
Some people may never develop a fully definable condition. However, over time, a person with UCTD may receive a diagnosis of a specific CTD.
This article discusses UCTD, including the potential causes, symptoms, and diagnostic criteria.
Conditions that impact the structure or function of connective tissue are known as CTDs. There are more than 200 of these conditions, which clinicians may categorize into three types:
- genetic disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome
- autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and scleroderma
- cancers, such as soft tissue sarcomas
CTDs typically have defining features that help a doctor reach a diagnosis. When an autoimmune condition does not present with the classic features of a particular condition but still features some signs or symptoms of CTD, a doctor may refer to it as UCTD.
A UCTD may never develop into a definable condition, but if it does, this typically occurs within
Due to the nature of UCTDs, doctors may have difficulty defining potential causes. There is currently no single known cause of UCTDs. However, most autoimmune conditions
Some doctors believe that a person may be genetically predisposed or at risk of developing CTD, which leaves them more susceptible to triggers such as infections or environmental factors.
Other risk factors for developing UCTD may
- Gender: Females are more likely to develop UCTD than males.
- Age: UCTD is more common in people aged 30–44 years.
- Vitamin D: Some research suggests that a person with low vitamin D levels may be at a higher risk of developing UCTD.
- Nutrition: Other
evidencehighlights a link between nutrition and autoimmune diseases. It is important to consume a nutritious, balanced, and anti-inflammatory diet to reduce the chances of developing an autoimmune disease such as UCTD.
While evidence remains minimal, research notes that infectious agents can potentially trigger the onset of autoimmune conditions.
UCTD can affect different parts of the body and often has many symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms may include:
- joint pain
- skin rashes
- dry eyes
- dry mouth
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
- pleurisy or pericarditis.
- oral ulcers
- unusual blood counts
- muscle weakness
If a person is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it may indicate that they have an autoimmune condition, such as UCTD, which may warrant medical investigation.
Some evidence indicates that roughly a quarter of individuals who visit a rheumatology clinic may receive a diagnosis of UCTD. Other
UCTD is difficult to diagnose, and it often requires a rheumatologist. Typically, they will use a combination of the following to reach a diagnosis:
- physical examination
- blood tests, such as those that check for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP)
- imaging tests, including X-rays or MRIs
- biopsy if a doctor suspects inflammation of tissues or organs
A person may develop new symptoms at any time after receiving a diagnosis of UCTD. These can help a doctor reach a new diagnosis.
Currently, there is no cure for UCTD. Early recognition and management of the condition are crucial, as it is a chronic condition that often requires medical therapy for many years.
Before recommending treatment, a doctor will first establish the nature and extent of any organ damage.
A doctor will usually prescribe various medications to help a person manage the condition,
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- calcium channel blockers
- anti-malarial drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine
- immunosuppressive drugs
It is advisable that people with a UCTD attend regular medical appointments to ensure their UCTD is not worsening or developing into a defined CTD.
The prognosis of UCTD typically depends on the amount of organ involvement. Up to
If a person develops a defined CTD, it most
The life expectancy of a person with UCTD typically depends on whether their symptoms develop into a defined CTD. Some evidence notes that these individuals may expect similar survival rates to those diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or RA.
They may also experience uncertainty regarding their diagnosis, which may influence their treatment strategies and the risk of developing complications.
Undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) describes an autoimmune condition that affects connective tissue. Connective tissue diseases (CTDs) usually have specific diagnostic criteria. However, when a condition does not meet the criteria for a CTD, a doctor may diagnose a UCTD.
The signs and symptoms of UCTD vary greatly and may overlap with other conditions, making it difficult for a doctor to diagnose and treat.
The symptoms of UCTD may be mild, although they may progress into a CTD. If a person experiences symptoms such as joint pain and rashes, it is advisable to contact a doctor.