The clinical features and genetic background of 18 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were investigated following the development of penicillamine-induced myasthenia (PIM). The initial myasthenia symptoms in all patients consisted of variable diplopia and/or ptosis with progression to a more generalized involvement in 7 of them. No clinical, humoral, or genetic factor was determined which would allow identification of individuals developing generalized as opposed to ocular myasthenia. Withdrawal of penicillamine was associated over 4-60 weeks with a slow resolution of symptoms, facilitated in 12 patients by the use of anticholinesterase agents. In 2 patients a persistent partial unilateral ptosis remains after 15 and 25 months, while in a further patient diplopia is present 42 months after resolution of the other myasthenic symptoms. The patients with PIM when compared with a healthy 'control' population had a significant increase in HLA Dr1 (p corr less than 0.005) and an absence of HLA Dr 3. A genetic susceptibility to the development of PIM, distinct from that observed in myasthenia gravis of spontaneous onset, is suggested by this abnormal distribution of HLA Dr antigens.
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