What is uctd?
Chances are you know someone with an autoimmune disease, and if you don’t… well then congratulations on being the odd one out. In fact, over 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of an autoimmune disease. One particularly sneaky member of this group is called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD).
But what exactly does that even mean?
Let’s take it apart; first word: Undifferentiated means “not yet determined.” Okay, so right off the bat we’re dealing with something mysterious here. The second part: Connective tissue refers to those tissues in our body that hold everything together like glue- things like tendons, ligaments and cartilage (Yeah we got fancy fast). Lastly, put ’em together and add “disease” at the end–you get “a mystery illness that compromises the connective tissue.”
Having UCTD isn’t exactly easy to spot by looking at someone– it’s more about how they feel rather than how they look. Here are some common symptoms:
- Fatigue (yep…pretty basic)
- Joint Pain
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures
- Mouth Ulcers
Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on many factors including which parts of a person’s body are attacked by their immune system[i.e., joints only or multiple organs])
There’s no fool-proof test for determining exactly whether one has UCTD or not since there aren’t any clear-cut criteria established yet- but fear not some smart medical people created criteria that can help doctors make better diagnoses 1. The requirements include meeting a certain number/percentage thresholds for different symptoms:
Diagnosis requires meeting specific percentage thresholds for various signs/symptoms
|Threshold for Diagnosis|
|Joint Pain or Arthritis||>1 joint pain/swelling as well as morning stiffness lasting 30 min at least twice a week|
|Raynaud’s Phenomenon||Discoloration in fingers/toes upon cold exposure/stress|
|Malar rash||Butterfly-like spreading redness on cheeks and nose|
|Mouth ulcers||>2 oral ulcers within 6 months|
It gets even more confusing since the disease isn’t just one thing, rather it’s a mix of a couple different autoimmune conditions like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Mixed Connective Tissue Disease(MCTD)and Rheumatoid Arthritis(RA).
Oh No! How’d I get this?
Well, it’s hard to say but let’s try anyways. UCTD is what doctors call an idiopathic illness which means we don’t really know where it comes from. Here are some theories though:
- Genetics– there could be genetic predispositions that influence who gets affected by UCTD
- Environmental Factors- There are environmental factors linked with autoimmune disease such as viruses and bacteria. Toxins and drugs may also play large roles.
- Freak Accident- Sometimes our immune system attacks normal cells by accident.
So… real scientific huh? It honestly seems like doctors can only take educated guesses.
Once diagnosed with UCTD , patients will become best friends with their rheumatologist –who happens to specialize in diagnosing/treating diseases affecting joints/muscles/ bones 3. Treatments options vary widely based off severity of symptoms but some common ones include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs)-e.g.,ibuprofen help reduce swelling/pain.
- Long-term steroid therapy—prednisone is commonly prescribed if NSAIDs don’t work.
- Antimalarials–e.g, hydroxychloroquine for severe symptoms such as joint pain and fatigue
- Immunosuppressants-E.g, cyclophosphamide in seriously ill patients that aren’t responding to other therapies 2.
- Behavioral Changes: Sleep management will help decrease fatigue during daytime hours.
A person’s prognosis depends on a lot of things, unfortunately there’s not one single answer when it comes to this disease’s predictions as it is heavily dependent on severity and the systems involved for any given patient.
While Autoimmune diseases are no joke (and neither is UCTD), sometimes humor can be an excellent way to deal with challenges we face- even if you’re still figuring out what exactly those challenges are!
TLDR: UCTD doesn’t play by the rules because technically speaking there isn’t just one thing that causes or puts someone at risk for developing symptoms of which vary widely like from person-to-person . Luckily though some pretty smart people helped establish criteria so doctors know what they’re looking at..ish