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Basic Calcium Phosphate Crystal Deposition Disease and Calcium Oxalate Crystal Deposition Disease

By Lawrence M. Ryan, MD, Professor of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin

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Basic Ca phosphate (apatite) and Ca oxalate crystal disorders tend to cause clinical manifestations similar to those of other crystal-induced arthritides.

Basic Ca phosphate crystal deposition disease

Most pathologic calcifications throughout the body contain mixtures of carbonate-substituted hydroxyapatite and octacalcium phosphate. Because these ultramicroscopic crystals are nonacidic Ca phosphates, the term basic Ca phosphate (BCP) is much more precise than apatite. These ultramicroscopic crystals occur in snowball-like clumps in rheumatic conditions (eg, calcific tendinitis, calcific periarthritis, some cases of progressive systemic sclerosis and dermatomyositis). They also occur in joint fluids and cartilages of patients with all degenerative arthropathies sufficiently advanced to cause joint space narrowing on x-ray.

BCP crystals can destroy joints and can cause severe intra-articular or periarticular inflammation.

Milwaukee shoulder syndrome, a profoundly destructive arthropathy affecting predominantly elderly women that usually develops in the shoulders and (often) knees, is one example.

Acute podagra due to periarticular BCP deposition can mimic gout; it occurs as a discrete syndrome in young women (less often in young men) and is treated the same as acute gout.

Besides synovial fluid analysis, x-rays should be taken of symptomatic joints. On x-ray, BCP crystals may be visible as periarticular cloudlike opacities; the crystals often spontaneously resolve over months or occasionally within days. Definitive assay for BCP crystals in synovial fluid is not readily available. Clumped crystals can be identified only with transmission electron microscopy. The clumps are not birefringent under polarized light.

Treatment with oral colchicine, an NSAID, or, if a large joint is involved, intra-articular corticosteroid ester crystal suspension is helpful. Treatment is the same as that for acute gout.

Ca oxalate crystal deposition disease

Ca oxalate crystal deposition is rare. It occurs most often in azotemic patients receiving hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis, particularly those treated with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which is metabolized to oxalate.

Crystals may deposit in blood vessel walls and skin, as well as joints. The crystals appear as birefringent bipyramidal structures. Synovial fluid may have > 2000 WBC/μL. On x-ray, Ca oxalate crystals are indistinguishable from BCP periarticular calcifications or Ca pyrophosphate dihydrate (CPPD) crystal deposits in cartilage.

Treatment is the same as that for CPPD crystals.