Back to search

The use of steroids and thalidomide in the management of Erythema Nodosum Leprosum; 17 years at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, London


Objectives: Prednisolone and thalidomide are commonly used in the management of erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL) and bring relief to patients with this condition worldwide. However, both ENL and its treatments can cause significant morbidity. This study describes the spectrum of ENL seen at The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, London (HTD), the use of steroids and thalidomide in its management and the complications of their use.

Study Design: We conducted a retrospective audit of patients diagnosed with ENL between 1996 and 2013. Data were obtained from hospital records including severity and length of disease, together with treatments received and adverse effects.

Results: Between 1996 and 2013, 30 patients were diagnosed with ENL. The median bacillary index (BI) at diagnosis was 4·65, higher than in previous studies. Most patients developed ENL during leprosy treatment (67%) and had chronic ENL (57%). The median length of ENL was 60 months (range 9 – 192); patients with BI . 4·5 had significantly longer duration of disease. 87% patients received prednisolone for median nine months; 35% developed adverse effects including diabetes and hypertension. 87% patients received thalidomide for median 16 months; 65% complained of side effects. There were no pregnancies or venous thromboembolisms. 77% patients stopped prednisolone within two months of starting thalidomide. There were no deaths in our cohort.

Conclusion: We describe the clinical course of ENL in a non-endemic country with access to thalidomide and prednisolone. ENL may last far longer than previously described and has significant impact on a patient’s health. In the UK, thalidomide is essential as a steroid-sparing agent, to prevent the adverse effects and mortality of long-term steroids which have been documented elsewhere.

More information

Journal Article
Nabarro L E B
Aggarwal D
Armstrong M
Lockwood DN