EXPERT ANALYSIS FROM THE WINTER RHEUMATOLOGY SYMPOSIUM
SNOWMASS, COLO. (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Ankylosing spondylitis, far and away, is the most common systemic disease in North America associated with uveitis, Dr. James T. Rosenbaum said at the Winter Rheumatology Symposium sponsored by the American College of Rheumatology.
The uveitis associated with ankylosing spondylitis and other HLA-B27-positive axial spondyloarthropathies is highly distinctive: It’s an anterior uveitis, meaning it occurs in front of the lens. It is sudden in onset, unilateral, often recurs in the opposite eye, and it resolves completely between attacks within several months. Also, it is associated with reduced intraocular pressure, according to Dr. Rosenbaum, professor of inflammatory diseases and chief of the division of arthritis and rheumatic diseases at Oregon Health & Science University and chief of ophthalmology at the Devers Eye Institute in Portland, Ore.
The differential diagnosis for a red eye is extensive. It includes conjunctivitis, scleritis, episcleritis, keratitis, and acute closed angle glaucoma, as well as anterior uveitis. But the only cause of a red eye that results in a constricted pupil is a sudden-onset acute anterior uveitis, he noted.
A patient with acute anterior uveitis has a 50% likelihood of being HLA-B27-positive. And a B27-positive patient with acute anterior uveitis and inflammatory back pain has nearly a 90% chance of having a spondyloarthropathy. Roughly half of these individuals meet diagnostic criteria for ankylosing spondylitis, and another 40% fulfill the Assessment of Spondyloarthritis International Society definition of spondyloarthritis, which doesn’t require definite evidence of inflammation of the sacroiliac joints on plain x-rays. An analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data showed that 1% of U.S. adults have axial spondyloarthritis (Arthritis Care Res. 2012;64:905-10).
Yet in Dr. Rosenbaum’s experience, two-thirds of patients who present with HLA-B27-positive, unilateral, sudden-onset acute anterior uveitis have no idea that their inflammatory low back pain is a manifestation of ankylosing spondylitis or axial spondyloarthritis.
“Back pain is so endemic in our society that it’s rarely realized that the chronic back inflammation is related to the eye disease,” he observed.
Dr. Rosenbaum said that for most nonophthalmologists, uveitis flies under the radar.
“Most people don’t know what it is, but uveitis actually accounts for about 10% of all cases of blindness. And it’s a disease that often occurs in the prime of life, unlike macular degeneration or blindness due to diabetes,” he continued.
His uveitis treatment ladder starts with topical corticosteroids, which are often quite effective for anterior uveitis. Second-line therapy consists of periocular or intravitreal steroid injections, “just like you’d inject a shoulder or knee.” Oral corticosteroids are effective, but their long-term use is problematic, so Dr. Rosenbaum will quickly switch to an antimetabolite, with methotrexate his top choice.
“I would never use a TNF inhibitor to treat spondyloarthropathy-associated acute anterior uveitis per se, because this type of uveitis is typically short lived. As a practical matter, by the time I got approval from the third-party payer the uveitis would be gone. But if a patient is having recurrent severe episodes of uveitis, a TNF inhibitor will reduce the intensity and frequency of those flares. So will sulfasalazine. Methotrexate will, too, but it doesn’t affect the spondyloarthropathy,” he said.
Dr. Rosenbaum reported receiving consulting fees from a dozen pharmaceutical companies and research grants from AbbVie, Eyegate, Genentech, and Psivida.