Pemphigus vulgaris is a rare chronic blistering skin disease and the most common form of pemphigus. Pemphigus was derived from the Greek word pemphix, meaning blister.
It is classified as a type II hypersensitivity reaction in which antibodies are formed against desmosomes, components of the skin that function to keep certain layers of skin bound to each other. As desmosomes are attacked, the layers of skin separate and the clinical picture resembles a blister. These blisters are due to acantholysis, or breaking apart of intercellular connections through an autoantibody-mediated response.
The disease mainly affects middle-aged and older adults between 50–60 years old. There has historically been a higher incidence in women.
Pemphigus vulgaris is a relatively rare disease that only affects about 1 to 5 people in 1 million in the United Kingdom, with an incidence of 1-10 cases per 1 million people across the world. There is an estimated prevalence of 30,000-40,000 cases in the United States. Cases of Pemphigus Vulgaris usually don't develop until after the age of 50 or so. The disease is not contagious which means it cannot be spread from person to person.
Corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive medications have historically been employed to reduce pemphigus symptoms, yet steroids are associated with serious and long-lasting side effects and their use should be limited as much as possible. Intravenous immunoglobulin, mycophenolate mofetil, methotrexate, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide have also been used with varying degrees of success.
An established alternative to steroids are monoclonal antibodies such as rituximab, which are increasingly being used as first-line treatment. In summer 2018, the FDA granted full approval to rituximab for this application, following successful fast track evaluation. In numerous case series, many patients achieve remission after one cycle of rituximab.
Treatment is more successful if initiated early on in the course of disease, perhaps even at diagnosis. Rituximab treatment combined with monthly IV immunoglobulin infusions has resulted in long-term remission with no recurrence of disease in 10 years after treatment was halted. This was a small trial study of 11 patients with 10 patients followed to completion.
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