Familial Mediterranean Fever

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Synonyms: periodic disease, recurrent polyserositis

Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF) is the most frequent of a group of diseases known as hereditary periodic fever syndromes.[1]

It is an autosomal recessive condition and more common in people of Mediterranean descent. It causes short, recurrent episodes of peritonitis, pleuritis, arthritis and fever.

  • Associated with mutations in the MEFV (Mediterranean fever) gene located on chromosome 16.[2]
  • Although FMF was originally defined as an autosomal recessive disorder, approximately 10-20% of FMF patients do not carry any FMF gene (MEFV) mutations.[3]
  • The MEFV gene codes for a protein called pyrin (or marenostrin). Pyrin normally blunts neutrophil-mediated inflammation but it is defective in FMF.[4] This can therefore lead to uninhibited episodes of inflammation, in the pleura, peritoneum and joints, that are usually associated with fever.
  • The episodes of inflammation are thought to result in excess production of amyloid A and its deposition in the kidneys in people with specific MEFV haplotypes.
  • FMF is common in people from eastern Mediterranean countries but is not restricted to these ethnic groups.[5]
  • Male-to-female ratio is 1.5-2:1.
  • The majority present in the first decade of life.
  • Episodes usually last 48-96 hours (peaking around 12 hours) and can include:
    • Fever - can be as high as 40°C; may be the only symptom/sign.
    • Abdominal pain with signs of peritonitis - pain can originate in one area and then spread over the whole abdomen; may be mistaken for appendicitis, cholecystitis or renal colic; there may be associated constipation followed by diarrhoea; vomiting can occur.
    • Pleuritic chest pain - occurs in >50%; may be associated with an effusion.
    • Pericarditis.
    • Joint pain - knees, ankles and wrists are most commonly affected; small joint involvement is rare; joint pain can last longer than abdominal pain; joints are normal between attacks
    • Erysipelas-like rash - occurs in 10-20% of cases; is usually below the knees.
    • Myalgia.
    • Pelvic pain - in females; due to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
    • Scrotal pain - in males; due to inflammation of the tunica vaginalis.
    • Vasculitis - the following are more common in those with FMF:
      • Henoch-Schönlein purpura[9]
      • Polyarteritis nodosa[10]
      • Behçet's disease
  • Not all of the above features may be present during an attack.
  • Attacks can recur after several days or months but there may be years between attacks.
  • During an attack, expect the following to be raised:[6]
    • Acute-phase proteins, including C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen.
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR).
    • White blood cell count
  • Look for proteinuria as a sign of amyloidosis; renal or rectal biopsy may be required to confirm diagnosis.
  • DNA samples can be analysed for known FMF gene (MEFV) mutations.
  • Synovial fluid will show an inflammatory picture.
  • Appropriate abdominal and chest and cardiac investigations should be carried out, depending on the symptoms and signs, to exclude other causes.
  • Colchicine is the mainstay of treatment - it is very effective, prevents attacks and helps symptoms. It is also important in the prevention and treatment of amyloidosis.[11]
  • Different ethnic groups seem to have different risks of developing amyloidosis (eg, risk in Ashkenazi Jewish people is low) and so daily colchicine may be needed by some, while others may just need treatment at the onset of an attack.[5]
  • Interferon alfa and etanercept have been used as alternatives to colchicine if it is not tolerated/effective.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help arthritis.
  • Prednisolone may help severe myalgia.

This has greatly improved with the advent of colchicine and its role in the prevention of amyloidosis. However, strict compliance is needed.

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Further reading & references

  1. Grateau G; Clinical and genetic aspects of the hereditary periodic fever syndromes. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2004 Apr 43(4):410-5. Epub 2004 Feb 24.
  2. Berkun Y, Eisenstein EM; Diagnostic criteria of familial Mediterranean fever. Autoimmun Rev. 2014 Apr-May 13(4-5):388-90. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2014.01.045. Epub 2014 Jan 11.
  3. Ben-Zvi I, Herskovizh C, Kukuy O, et al; Familial Mediterranean fever without MEFV mutations: a case-control study. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2015 Mar 25 10(1):34. doi: 10.1186/s13023-015-0252-7.
  4. Bhat A, Naguwa SM, Gershwin ME; Genetics and new treatment modalities for familial Mediterranean fever. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Sep 1110:201-8.
  5. Gul A; Treatment of familial Mediterranean fever: colchicine and beyond. Isr Med Assoc J. 2014 May 16(5):281-4.
  6. Federici S, Caorsi R, Gattorno M; The autoinflammatory diseases. Swiss Med Wkly. 2012 Jun 19 142:w13602. doi: 10.4414/smw.2012.13602.
  7. Almeida de Jesus A, Goldbach-Mansky R; Monogenic autoinflammatory diseases: concept and clinical manifestations. Clin Immunol. 2013 Jun 147(3):155-74. doi: 10.1016/j.clim.2013.03.016. Epub 2013 Apr 9.
  8. Familial Mediterranean Fever, FMF; Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)
  9. Gershoni-Baruch R, Broza Y, Brik R; Prevalence and significance of mutations in the familial Mediterranean fever gene in Henoch-Schonlein purpura. J Pediatr. 2003 Nov 143(5):658-61.
  10. Yalcinkaya F, Ozcakar ZB, Kasapcopur O, et al; Prevalence of the MEFV gene mutations in childhood polyarteritis nodosa. J Pediatr. 2007 Dec 151(6):675-8. Epub 2007 Aug 28.
  11. Vitale A, Rigante D, Lucherini OM, et al; Biological treatments: new weapons in the management of monogenic autoinflammatory disorders. Mediators Inflamm. 2013 2013:939847. doi: 10.1155/2013/939847. Epub 2013 Jul 21.
Original Author:
Dr Michelle Wright
Current Version:
Dr Colin Tidy
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
2133 (v22)
Last Checked:
29 May 2015
Next Review:
27 May 2020

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