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Connective Tissue Disorder (CTD)

Connective tissues such as cartilage, bone, blood and adipose (fat) provide essential structure, support and protection to organs and other structures throughout the body. Primarily composed of two proteins—collagen and elastic—connective tissues can sometimes become inflamed due to an injury or a genetic condition. In some cases, the cause of the inflammation is unknown. 

Types of Connective Tissue Disorders 

There are several types of connective tissue disorders, including: 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) 
  • Scleroderma 
  • Lupus 
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome 
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA
  •  Microscopic polyangiitis 
  • Polymyositis/dermatomyositis 
  • Marfan syndrome 

What Are the Symptoms of a Connective Tissue Disorder? 

The symptoms of a connective tissue disorder can vary depending on the area of the body affected. The most serious symptoms are related to inflammation around the lungs, such as: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A cough that produces bloody phlegm
  • Chest pain
  • Respiratory failure
  • Unexplained fatigue

The symptoms of a connective tissue disorder that does not affect the lungs can include: 

  • Swollen fingers 
  • White fingertips 
  • Numbness in the fingertips 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Joint pain or weakness 

How Are Connective Tissue Disorders Diagnosed? 

If a connective tissue disorder is suspected, a physician will typically begin the diagnostic process by taking the patient’s medical history and performing a neurological examination. Because connective tissue disorders can produce symptoms similar to those of other conditions, the physician may order one or more diagnostic tests to help rule out other causes and confirm a diagnosis.  

Some options include: 

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain and spinal cord 
  • A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) 
  • Chest X-rays  
  • An electromyogram  
  • A muscle biopsy 

How Are Connective Tissue Disorders Treated? 

The optimal treatment approach can vary depending on the type of connective tissue disorder diagnosed and other factors. Some patients benefit from pain management strategies, while corticosteroids can be used to reduce inflammation for a short period or indefinitely. 

Some connective tissue disorders can affect a patient’s daily life. Physical or occupational therapy can help a patient manage the symptoms by making adjustments in his or her home or work environment. A walking aid such as a brace can also be helpful.  

Tampa General Hospital offers world-class care for patients with connective tissue disorders and other neurological conditions.