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Clin Exp Med. 2018 May;18(2):135-149. doi: 10.1007/s10238-017-0479-9. Epub 2017 Dec 14.

Systemic lupus erythematosus and ocular involvement: an overview.

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Department of Basic Medical Sciences, Neurosciences and Sensory Organ, University of Bari Medical School, Clinica Oculistica, Policlinico, Piazza Giulio Cesare, 70124, Bari, Italy.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a multisystem autoimmune disease of undefined etiology and with remarkably heterogeneous clinical features. Virtually any organ system can be affected, including the eye. SLE-related eye involvement can be diagnosed in approximately one-third of the patients and is usually indicative of disease activity. An early diagnosis and the adoption of suitable therapeutic measures are necessary to prevent sight-threatening consequences, especially in patients with juvenile SLE. Periocular lesions, such as eyelid involvement and orbital inflammation, are relatively rare and, in case of orbital masses, may require a biopsy control. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca or secondary Sjögren's syndrome is the most frequent ophthalmic manifestation of SLE. According to its variable severity, lubricating tear drops may be sufficient in mild cases, whereas cyclosporine-A ophthalmic solution, glucocorticoids (GCs), methotrexate, and/or other immunosuppressive drugs may be required in the more severe cases. Partial occlusion of the lacrimal punctum by thermal cautery is rarely applied. Although uncommon, episcleritis and scleritis can sometimes be detected as an initial finding of SLE and reveal themselves as moderate to intense ocular pain, redness, blurred vision, and lacrimation. Unilateral or more often bilateral retinopathy is responsible for visual loss of variable severity and is ascribed to vasculitis of the retinal capillaries and arterioles. In addition to the combined treatment suitable for all patients with active SLE, intravitreal bevacizumab should be considered in cases of severe vaso-occlusive retinopathy and laser photocoagulation in cases of neovascularization. Purtscher-like retinopathy is likely ascribable to the formation of microemboli that results in retinal vascular occlusion and microvascular infarcts. Choroidal disease is characterized by monolateral or bilateral blurred vision. Because of the choroidal effusion, retinal detachment and secondary angle-closure glaucoma may occur. Ischemic optic neuropathy is characterized by acute-onset and progressive binocular visual impairment as a consequence of occlusion of the small vessels of the optic nerves due to immune complex vasculitis. Intravenous GC boluses followed by oral GCs and/or, in case of recurrence, intravenous cyclophosphamide and/or rituximab are commonly employed. Neovascularization can be treated by intravitreal bevacizumab and progression of retinal ischemic areas by retinal laser photocoagulation. Ocular adverse events (AE) have been described following the long-term administration of one or more of the drugs presently used for the treatment of SLE patients. Posterior subcapsular cataracts and secondary open-angle glaucoma are common AE of the prolonged GC administration. The long-term administration of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) sulfate is well known to be associated with AE, such as vortex keratopathy and in particular the often irreversible and sight-threatening maculopathy. Length of administration > 5 years, > 1000 g total HCQ consumption, > 6.5 mg/kg daily dosing, coexistence of renal disease, and preexisting maculopathy are all considered risk factors for HCQ-induced retinopathy. Ocular AE of additional immunosuppressive and biological agents are still poorly known, given the worldwide more limited experience with their long-term use. A thorough ophthalmological control is strongly recommended at closer intervals for all SLE patients, in step with the total length of exposure to the drugs and the cumulative dose administered.


Ocular adverse events; Ophthalmic manifestations; Optic neuropathy; Retinopathy; Systemic lupus erythematosus

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