What is Connective Tissue Disease?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Connective tissue in the body helps with the cohesion of the body. It includes bone, collagen, cartilage, the walls of blood vessels, and fat. Connective tissue can have different types of problems, including injuries and disorders. Connective tissue disease is a pathological condition—whether from an infection, a genetic cause, or the environment—in the connective tissue.

A man with leg pain caused by connective tissue disease.
A man with leg pain caused by connective tissue disease.

Dupuytren's disease is an example of a connective tissue disease. It is the name for abnormal thickening of the fascia, the tissue just below the skin, in the palm and fingers. The thickening causes cords and lumps, and may cause contraction of the fingers, a symptom referred to as Dupuytren’s contracture. Dupuytren’s disease occasionally affects the knuckles or the soles of the feet.

Dupuytren’s disease is more common in men older than 40 and people with a northern European heritage. It is thought that it may relate to biochemical issues in the fascia. In mild cases when there is not a change in hand function, there is no treatment. Surgery may be used to help straighten the fingers in more severe cases, but the disease may recur.

Kawasaki disease, also known as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, is a rare childhood disease with an unknown origin. Although it begins with symptoms like high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash, it can also include vasculitis or angitis, a connective tissue disease involving inflammation of the arterial walls. In mild cases, it is treated only with aspirin and gamma globulin, but if the blood vessels become affected, there is potential for heart injury and coronary aneurysms and other treatments are then used.

Some connective tissue diseases are autoimmune diseases, like lupus, scleroderma, polymyositis, and mixed connective tissue disease, sometimes referred to as MCTD, which has overlapping symptoms with the other three. Lupus can result in the immune system attacking healthy tissue in many parts of the body, sometimes including connective tissue. In scleroderma, scar tissue develops in the skin and organs due to an unknown cause, while in polymyositis is an inflammatory myopathy, in which chronic muscle inflammation and muscle weakness are present. It is associated with a number of other issues, such as autoimmune disease, collagen-vascular disease, and HIV-AIDS. For all of these connective tissue diseases, there are treatments, but no cure.

Rheumatoid arthritis and Siögren’s syndrome are other autoimmune diseases that affect the connective tissue. Undifferentiated connective tissue disease is the name for a connective tissue disease that does not fully meet the diagnostic criteria for any of the specific connective tissue diseases. Sometimes, undifferentiated connective tissue disease develops into an identifiable specific connective tissue disease.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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