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What Is It?

Polychondritis, also called relapsing polychondritis, is a rare disease in which cartilage in many areas of the body becomes inflamed. The disease most commonly affects the ears, nose and the airways of the lungs. The cause is not known, and it occurs most often in people in their 50s or 60s. One theory is that polychondritis might be an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks the body rather than foreign invaders such as viruses. In polychondritis, it's possible that a triggering event, perhaps an infection, sets off a reaction by the immune system, which unleashes an attack on the body's cartilage. Some people may have a genetic makeup that makes them more prone to this. The disease does not seem to run in families. It sometimes appears in people who have other disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus).

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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