Journal of Postgraduate Medicine
 Open access journal indexed with Index Medicus & EMBASE  
     Home | Subscribe | Feedback  

Year : 1976  |  Volume : 22  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 154-156  

Recurrent arthritis - unusual presentation of leprosy

AA Chikhalikar, AF Golwalla, AB Shah, GS Hattangadi 
 Department of Medicine, Seth G. S. Medical College and K. E. M. Hospital, Bombay-400 012, India

Correspondence Address:
A A Chikhalikar
Department of Medicine, Seth G. S. Medical College and K. E. M. Hospital, Bombay-400 012


A case of leprosy which presented in lepra reaction with pain­ful involvement of joints over a period of months with remissions and exacerbations is presented. The mechanisms by which leprosy ,nay cause painful joints are discussed. Attention is drawn to the concept that every case of «DQ»resistant or recurrent arthritis«DQ» should be scrutinised for evidence of leprosy.

How to cite this article:
Chikhalikar A A, Golwalla A F, Shah A B, Hattangadi G S. Recurrent arthritis - unusual presentation of leprosy.J Postgrad Med 1976;22:154-156

How to cite this URL:
Chikhalikar A A, Golwalla A F, Shah A B, Hattangadi G S. Recurrent arthritis - unusual presentation of leprosy. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 1976 [cited 2023 Jun 1 ];22:154-156
Available from:

Full Text


Leprosy is a common disease in our country. It has a wide range of mani­festations. Painful involvement of joints is known to occur in leprosy but when the patient presents for the first time with arthritis, the diagnosis of leprosy may be overlooked. We report here one such case.

 Case report

S.K., a 39 year old male patient, was admitted with complaints of fever and joint pains for two weeks. The pain and swelling mainly affected both ankle and knee joints, but the wrists and small joints of the hands were also involved. The patient had been suffering from such pains for the previous one and a half years. He had been diagnosed as a case of rheumatoid arthritis and treated with salicylates and phenylbutazone. The response to treatment had been poor and there had been exacerbations and remissions. He had suffered from tuberculous pleural effusion in the past and was taking anti-tuberculous treatment.

On examination, the patient had fever warm swelling of both ankles and knee joints and spindle-shaped swellings of the interphalangeal joints of the hands. Rest of the examination revealed no abnor­mality.

Laboratory investigations were as fol­lows: Hb.-11.5 g.%. W.B.C. count­9,600/, polymorphs-67 %, lympho­cytes-31%, eosinophils-2% , E.S.R. 107 mm at the end of 1st hour; Urinalysis- I NAD; X-ray chest-NAD. No evidence of active tuberculous lesion. E.C.G. - NAD; Serum Uric acid-4.6 mg%.

The patient was treated with aspirin 3.6 gm daily. The dose was gradually increas­ed to 7.2 gm daily, but the response was poor. While receiving this treatment, he developed a rash consisting of multiple discrete raised erythematous lesions with distinct margins, mainly on the face and the extremities. He reported that during the previous attack of joint pains, he had developed a similar rash which disap­peared spontaneously, leaving behind pigmented patches. Simultaneously with the rash, the patient had paraesthesiae on the right hand. Examination revealed diminished pinprick sensation over mid­dle, ring and little fingers of the right hand and corresponding area of the right palm. The ulnar and lateral popliteal nerves were thickened on both sides. A leprologist was consulted and a skin biopsy taken. The biopsy was positive for lepra bacilli. The patient was diagnoses to be a case of lepra reaction with erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL).

Aspirin was omitted and the patient was treated with 3 tablets of chloroquine (200 mg of base each) daily. This was followed by a dramatic response and at the end of 48 hours he was afebrile and the joint pains had markedly subsided, After control of lepra reaction Dapsone therapy was started. Follow-up at the end of two months showed that the patient had remained more or less free of joins pains without the use of anti-arthritic drugs.


Neuropathic joints of leprosy, with painless destruction of joint structure are wellknown. However leprosy may also cause painful joints by one of the follow­ing mechanisms: infiltration of joint cap­sule, synovial membrane and tendon: around the joint may occur, especially in those joints which are directly covered by the skin. The appearance produced may closely mimic that of rheumatoid arthritis. During the course of the disease, acute exacerbations called a: lepra reactions may occur which manifest by arthritis, fever, acute neuritis erythema nodosum and lymphadenopathy. Occasionally, the patient may remain in reaction for a period of few weeks. If the patient presents himself to the doctor for the first time with arthritis, the diagnosis of leprosy may be overlook­ed unless the patient is carefully scru­tinised.

Lele et al [1] reported a series of 13 pa­tients who presented with arthritis and were later diagnosed as leprosy. They reported that in an institution in Lou­siana, 4.5% of 425 patients of leprosy had a previous diagnosis of arthritis. It is important to rule out a chance asso­ciation of leprosy and rheumatoid arthritis in such cases. Lele et al [1] performed synovial biopsies on their patients and reported that six patients "had epitheloid cells and giant cells which are not a feature of histopathology of rheumatoid arthritis".

In the case discussed here, synovial biopsy was not performed. However, the following points strongly suggest that arthritis was a manifestation of leprosy in this patient:

(1) Acute exacerbations of joint pains had been associated with appear­ance of erythema nodosum and acute neuritic symptoms on at least two occasions.

(2) The patient who had not respond­ed to large doses of aspirin, re­sponded quickly to chloroquine.The dramatic response to smalldose of chloroquine points to the specific effect of chloroquine in control of lepra reaction rather than its general antipyretic or anti­rheumatoid action.

(3) Following the therapy for leprosy, the patient remained free of joint pains without any treatment for arthritis.

The importance of scrutinising ever case of "resistant or recurrent arthritis' for evidence of leprosy, therefore, cannot he overemphasised.


We wish to thank the Dean, K. E. M. Hospital and Seth G. S. Medical College. for allowing us to publish this case report.


1Lele, R. D., Sainani, G. S. and Sharma, K. D.: Leprosy presenting as rheuma­toid arthritis, Journal of the Association of Physicians of India, 13: 275-277, 1955.

Thursday, June 1, 2023
 Site Map | Home | Contact Us | Feedback | Copyright  and disclaimer