Relapsing polychondritis



What is relapsing polychondritis?

Relapsing polychondritis (RP) is a rare condition characterized by recurrent inflammation of cartilage and other tissues throughout the body. Cartilage is a tough but flexible tissue that covers the ends of bones at a joint, and gives shape and support to other parts of the body. Ear involvement is the most common feature, but a variety of other areas of the body may be affected, including the costal (rib) cartilage, eyes, nose, airways, heart, vascular (veins) system, skin, joints, kidney, and nervous system.

How common is relapsing polychondritis?

Relapsing polychondritis affects males and females in equal numbers. Symptoms usually begin between forty and sixty years of age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of relapsing polychondritis?

The disease mostly affects cartilage (firm but flexible tissue) in your earsand joints. It also may show up in your nose, ribs, spine, and windpipe. It can affect any area where the tissue is similar to cartilage, like your eyes, heart, skin, kidney, ribs, blood vessels, and nervous system.

Common signs of relapsing polychondritis include:

  • A dip in the bridge of your nose (“saddle nose” or “pug nose”)
  • Ear pain and redness
  • Red, painful, and swollen eyes
  • Painful, swollen joints (hands, fingers, shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles, toes, pelvis)
  • Rib pain
  • Throat or neck pain
  • Trouble breathing and speaking
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Rashes

Depending on where RP affects you, it can cause problems with a heartvalve or kidney issues as well. If RP affects your inner ear, you could feel sick to your stomach or have trouble with hearing and balance.

If the disease gets into your windpipe, it can cause a cough and make it hard to breathe or swallow. You also can have severe RP pain in your breastbone and ribs.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes relapsing polychondritis?

Doctors don’t know what causes RP. Some think a certain gene may make you more likely to get it, but it doesn’t run in families.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for relapsing polychondritis?

Relapsing polychondritis is considered an autoimmune disorder. That means your immune system attacks healthy tissue by mistake.

Researchers think some cases might be triggered by stress or things in the environment. Please consult with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is relapsing polychondritis diagnosed?

There are no tests available that are specific for relapsing polychondritis (RP). A diagnosis is, therefore, generally based on the presence of characteristic signs and symptoms. For example, people may be diagnosed as having RP if they have three or more of the following features:

  • Inflammation of the cartilage of both ears
  • Seronegative (negative for rheumatoid factor) polyarthritis (arthritis that involves 5 or more joints simultaneously)
  • Inflammation of the cartilage of the nose
  • Eye inflammation (conjunctivitis, episcleritis, scleritis, and/or uveitis)
  • Inflammation of the cartilage of the airway
  • Vestibular dysfunction (i.e. vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus)

In some cases, a biopsy of affected tissue may be necessary to support the diagnosis.

How is relapsing polychondritis treated?

The primary goals of treatment for people with relapsing polychondritis (RP) are to relieve present symptoms and to preserve the structure of the affected cartilage. The main treatment for RP is corticosteroid therapy with prednisone to decrease the severity, frequency and duration of relapses. Higher doses are generally given during flares, while lower doses can typically be prescribed during periods of remission. Other medications reported to control symptoms include dapsone, colchicine, azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, hydroxychloroquine, cyclosporine and infliximab.

People who develop severe heart or respiratory complications may require surgery.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage relapsing polychondritis?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: March 15, 2018 | Last Modified: March 15, 2018