Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF), previously known as nephrogenic fibrosing dermopathy, is an idiopathic condition seen in patients with renal disease that is characterized by cutaneous sclerosis that can often result in contractures, pain, and functional disability as well as systemic complications. Recent reports have suggested a possible link with exposure to gadolinium, a commonly used radiocontrast agent. No current therapy has clearly demonstrated efficacy for NSF, although case reports suggest that extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) may be of benefit. The purpose of this study was to explore the plausibility of a gadolinium linkage with NSF as well as to assess the efficacy of ECP in the treatment of a cohort of patients with NSF.
We report our experience with 8 consecutive patients with NSF seen at the Stanford Medical Center, Palo Alta, California, from 2004 to 2006. Of the 8 patients, 6 had a history of arterial or venous thrombotic disease and 7 had a documented exposure to gadolinium within 1 week to several months prior to the onset of NSF. Specifically, all patients were exposed to gadodiamide. We treated 5 of the patients with ECP. After a mean number of 34 treatment sessions over a mean of 8.5 months, 3 patients experienced a mild improvement in skin tightening, range of motion, and/or functional capacity.
Our data support the hypothesis that exposure to gadolinium, perhaps specifically gadodiamide, plays a role in the pathogenesis of NSF. Larger epidemiologic studies will be needed to confirm this association. In addition, our experience suggests that, if used for extended periods, ECP might have some mild benefit for patients with NSF. Larger, randomized, placebo-controlled trials of ECP should be performed to more specifically assess the benefit of ECP in the treatment of NSF.