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March 15-16 2024

PFAPA and FMF is there a link ?

During the JIR Winter School 2024 in Switzerland, Dr. Tillmann Kallinich from Germany and Dr. Yonatan Butbul from Israel discussed the complexities of diagnosing autoinflammatory diseases in children. Watch the full interview or read the article to learn more.

Diagnosing autoinflammatory diseases like PFAPA (Periodic Fever, Aphthous Stomatitis, Pharyngitis, and Adenitis) and FMF (Familial Mediterranean Fever) in children presents significant challenges due to overlapping symptoms and genetic complexities. Recent research involving 300 patients sheds light on the nuances of these conditions, emphasizing the need for more precise diagnostic tools and collaborative research efforts.


Overlapping Symptoms and Diagnostic Challenges


A striking finding from the study is that about 20% of patients diagnosed with PFAPA also showed indications of FMF. This overlap raises the critical question of whether these patients truly have FMF or if their symptoms merely mimic those of FMF. Notably, only 30% of these patients were homozygous for FMF mutations, while the rest had only one mutation, complicating the differentiation further.


PFAPA is traditionally identified by symptoms such as pharyngitis, lymphadenopathy, and aphthous ulcers, but it can also present with abdominal pain and myalgia. FMF, on the other hand, sometimes manifests with limited symptoms like fever in very young children, adding to the diagnostic complexity. Severe abdominal pain and myalgia were more prevalent in patients with overlapping PFAPA and FMF symptoms, highlighting the clinical overlap.


The Role of Colchicine in Treatment


Both PFAPA and FMF respond to colchicine, a medication commonly used to treat FMF, further blurring the lines between the two diseases. While colchicine is the gold standard for FMF, it is also used in PFAPA patients to reduce the frequency of attacks and minimize steroid use. However, colchicine's effectiveness in only about 50% of PFAPA cases underscores the need for better treatment differentiation.


Genetic and Ethnic Factors


Genetic analysis, although crucial, does not always provide clear answers. The presence of heterozygous mutations in the MEFV gene complicates the diagnosis, as these mutations are found in both FMF and PFAPA patients. Interestingly, the study found that 90% of PFAPA patients were of Mediterranean ancestry, compared to 50% in the general population, suggesting an ethnic predisposition that warrants further investigation.


Future Directions in Research


The overlap of symptoms and genetic markers in PFAPA and FMF highlights the need for advanced diagnostic tools and deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Future research should focus on identifying specific biomarkers that can distinguish between PFAPA and FMF episodes. Additionally, establishing large registries and fostering international collaboration are essential for gaining comprehensive insights into these diseases.


In conclusion, while significant strides have been made in understanding PFAPA and FMF, the diagnostic challenges remain substantial. Continued research and collaboration are crucial to develop more accurate diagnostic criteria and improve treatment outcomes for affected children.


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