Author: David Ma, 2nd Year Medical Student, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; Chief Editor: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, April 2016.
Panniculitis is a condition where the fat under the skin becomes inflamed.
Nodular panniculitis is characterised by one or multiple, recurrent, subcutaneous nodules. These commonly arise on the legs. Nodular panniculitis is associated with acute systemic symptoms such as fever, general malaise and abdominal pain.
Nodular panniculitis is also referred to as lobular panniculitis, and relapsing, febrile, non-suppurative panniculitis. In the past, it was also called Weber Christian disease.
Nodular panniculitis is rare. It occurs in males and females of all age. It is most commonly seen in young adult women, and it rarely affects young children.
Nodular panniculitis is associated with autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, diabetes mellitus and alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency disease.
The cause of nodular panniculitis is unknown. One hypothesis is that fat may trigger an autoimmune or autoinflammatory granulomatous reaction.
The mechanism of nodular panniculitis is that white blood cells infiltrate and damage the subcutaneous fat, causing necrosis and fibrosis.
The first signs of nodular panniculitis are
Each nodule regresses after a few weeks. In some cases, the nodules can ulcerate and leak an oily, yellow discharge.
Nodular panniculitis can involve visceral organs and cause other symptoms and complications such as:
Nodular panniculitis is diagnosed by its clinical features. Other forms of panniculitis should be excluded. Skin biopsy shows inflamed adipocytes (fat cells).
There is no one effective therapy. Nodular panniculitis without involvement of other organs should be treated symptomatically.
Other treatments reported to be of benefit include mycophenolate mofetil, thalidomide, clofazimine, anti-malarials such as hydroxychloroquine, antibiotics, dapsone, and immunosuppressive drugs such as azathioprine and ciclosporin.
Nodular panniculitis tends to settle down after a few weeks or months. There may be a single episode, or the disease may relapse repeatedly over time.
Involvement of other organs is associated with a high risk of mortality.
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