Pyoderma gangrenosum is a chronic progressive skin necrosis of unknown etiology often associated with systemic illness.
Etiology is unknown, but pyoderma gangrenosum can be associated with vasculitis, gammopathies, RA, leukemia, lymphoma, hepatitis C virus infection, SLE, sarcoidosis, polyarthritis, and especially inflammatory bowel disease and is thought to be caused by an abnormal immune response.
Pathophysiology is poorly understood but may involve problems with neutrophil chemotaxis. Ulcerations of pyoderma gangrenosum may occur after trauma or injury to the skin in 30% of patients; this process is termed pathergy.
Symptoms and Signs
Pyoderma gangrenosum begins as an inflamed erythematous papule, pustule, or nodule. The lesion, which may resemble a furuncle or an arthropod bite at this stage, then ulcerates and expands rapidly, developing a swollen necrotic base and a raised dusky to violaceous border. An undermined border is common, if not pathognomonic. Systemic symptoms such as fever, malaise, and arthralgias are common. The ulcers coalesce to form larger ulcers, often with cribriform or sieve-like scarring.
Diagnosis is clinical. Biopsies of lesions are not often diagnostic but may be supportive; 40% of biopsies from a leading edge show vasculitis with neutrophils and fibrin in superficial vessels.
Prednisone 60 to 80 mg po once/day is still the mainstay of treatment, although cyclosporine 3 mg/kg po once/day is also quite effective. Dapsone, clofazimine, thalidomide, tumor necrosis factor-α inhibitors (eg, infliximab), and mycophenolate mofetil have also been used successfully. Surgical treatments are avoided because of the risk of wound extension.
Last full review/revision October 2009 by Wingfield E. Rehmus, MD, MPH
Content last modified February 2012