Rheumatology Division,
Hospital for Special Surgery

  1. What does the term undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) mean
  2. What are the most common problems in UCTD?
  3. What causes UCTD?
  4. What is the likelihood that I will develop lupus?

1.What does the term undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) mean?
This term is used to refer to patients who don't quite meet the "criteria" - the features doctors use to make the diagnosis of a disease -- for one of the well-defined connective tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. A person with UCTD may have a couple of the symptoms seen in one or more of these diseases -- but does not have enough of them to make the diagnosis. The lab tests for these diseases may even be negative (suggesting the disease is not present) in patients with UCTD. Although the word "undifferentiated" sounds vague, rheumatologists know this term describes a real problem. It does not mean that your doctor does not know what to call what you have. For more information, read our full In-Depth Disease Overview on UCTD.

2. What are the most common problems in UCTD?

Occasionally, pleuritis or pericarditis (inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs or heart, respectively, which can cause chest pain especially with breathing) or neuropathy (abnormal nerve sensations, usually in the fingers or toes, ranging from numbness to tingling to pain) may occur. Problems with the kidneys, liver, lungs or brain are almost unheard of. The problems seen with UCTD usually are not life-threatening, nor do they typically get worse over the years.

3. What causes UCTD?
UCTD, like well-defined connective tissue diseases, is a condition felt to be caused by the immune system not working the way it should. For some reason, the immune system, which is meant to fight invaders such as bacteria, may start to think of the body itself as foreign and begin to fight against it. This is why it is called an "autoimmune" disease. We think this may be set in motion by the environment (exposures or viruses for example) or because of genetic causes (things that you were born with), however, the cause is not very well understood. Luckily, this "autoimmune" phenomenon seems to occur at a low level in the body because there is not much tissue damage seen in patients with UTCD. UCTD is not contagious. read our full In-Depth Disease Overview on UCTD.

4. What is the likelihood that I will develop lupus?
Studies to date have shown that the likelihood of developing a defined connective tissue disease such as lupus is very small. Less than one-third of patients ultimately turn out to have a well-defined connective tissue disease. The longer a patient stays diagnosed as "undifferentiated," the greater the likelihood that another disease will never develop. Just as many, if not more patients with UCTD go into remission, with symptoms disappearing. For more information, read our full In-Depth Disease Overview on UCTD.

Posted: 7/21/2004
Reviewed: 11/11/2009

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