Solid persistent facial edema is a rare and poorly understood condition that is difficult
to treat and can lead to significant cosmetic disfigurement, adversely affecting a
patient's self-esteem and mental health.
It can be a serious complication of acne vulgaris and rosacea, but also may be associated
with other congenital, infectious, malignant, and inflammatory processes.
It has also been referred to as Morbihan's disease (referring to the French district
where it was first described in 1957) and rosaceous lymphedema.3, 4, 5
The pathogenesis of solid persistent facial edema and definitive treatment remain
unclear. Theories have suggested that Morbihan's disease is an end-stage complication
of rosacea and acne.
The recurrent occurrences of vascular dilation and inflammation may lead to chronic
inflammatory changes, including damage and remodeling of the vascular and lymphatic
Persistent edema results from impaired lymphatic drainage. However, Morbihan's disease
has occurred in patients without rosacea, or as a first symptom of rosacea.
Therefore, it is possible that solid persistent facial edema may represent a separate
disease entity. Herein, we describe a patient who presented with solid persistent
facial edema and responded well to isotretinoin and compression therapy.
A 24-year-old white man with no history of significant acne vulgaris, rosacea, or
visual complaints presented with an 8-month history of persistent left periorbital
swelling. He had previously been evaluated by multiple physicians, including an allergist
and ophthalmologist, without a definitive diagnosis or response to treatment with
corticosteroid ophthalmic solutions or oral antihistamines.
Physical examination revealed non-erythematous, non-pitting edema of the left periorbital
aspect of the face, with no conjunctival inflammation (Fig 1). He received a diagnosis
of “persistent localized edema,” and was treated with a combination of loratadine,
cetirizine, and doxepin. Subsequent evaluation included paranasal radiography and
maxillofacial computed tomography scan, revealing only periorbital soft tissue swelling,
negative result for North American Standard Series patch testing, a negative tuberculin
skin test result, and histology showing numerous dermal ectatic blood vessels and lymphatics
and a sparse infiltrate of lymphocytes (Fig 2).
Solid persistent facial edema before treatment with isotretinoin.
A and B, Solid persistent facial edema histology showing numerous dermal ectatic blood
vessels and lymphatics and a sparse infiltrate of lymphocytes.
A diagnosis of solid persistent facial edema was made, and after a 2-month course
of doxycycline (100 mg twice daily) and antihistamine therapy did not result in improvement,
these medications were discontinued, with the addition of isotretinoin 40 mg/day because
of patient frustration and desire for alternate therapy. After 3 months of therapy
with isotretinoin, there was mild clinical improvement, and night compression therapy
was initiated, consisting of a full facial plastic mask with elastic compression straps
produced by a physical therapy clinic. Within 2 months, there was significant clinical
improvement, and the isotretinoin dose was decreased to 40 mg every other day. Sustained
clinical improvement was achieved during the subsequent 15 months (Fig 3), at which
time isotretinoin was discontinued, and clinical improvement has been maintained with
continued night compression therapy alone.
Solid persistent facial edema 5 months after initiation of isotretinoin and 2 months
after initiation of compression therapy.
Patients with solid persistent facial edema often have a history of acne or another
skin condition that was present 2 to 5 years before the development of facial edema.
Clinically, there is characteristic firm, non-pitting edema and erythema of the centrofacial
and periorbital area, including the forehead, glabella, eyelids, nose, and cheeks.
Initially, the edema may be pitting, but subsequently may become firm, non-pitting
edema as a result of chronic inflammation and fibrosis.
It is thought that chronic inflammation may lead to lymphatic stasis, as well as an
imbalance between the production and drainage of lymphatic fluid.
5, 6, 7 Mast cells within the inflammatory infiltrate may contribute to fibrosis.
Histopathologic findings of patients with solid persistent facial edema have included
dermal edema, dilated lymphatic and blood vessels, lymphohistiocytic perivascular
and perifollicular infiltrate, and several mast cells within the thickened and fibrotic
6, 7, 8 The differential diagnoses of solid persistent facial edema include Melkersson-Rosenthal
syndrome, as well as lupus erythematosus, contact dermatitis, chronic actinic dermatitis,
sarcoidosis, dermatomyositis, erysipelas, mycobacterium infections, thyroid disease,
Complications of solid persistent facial edema include deformity that may lead to
visual obstruction, constant tearing from the affected eye, functional problems, and
diminished self-esteem as a result of cosmetic disfigurement.
Patients often have no other symptoms other than deformity.
Solid persistent facial edema represents a treatment challenge. Treatments used for
this condition have included isotretinoin, antihistamines, corticosteroids, antibiotics,
interferon gamma, thalidomide, lymphatic massage, compression garments, radiation,
and surgical management (including blepharoplasties, lymphatic drainage surgeries,
carbon dioxide lasers, and local steroid injections), with varying degrees of response.3,
4, 5 However, treatment options, including surgical intervention, often provide only
partial or temporary treatment response.
Boparai et al
found that longer periods of antibiotic management correlated with response to treatment
and stated that patents may benefit from a 4- to 6-month duration of tetracycline-based
antibiotics. However, isotretinoin, oral corticosteroids, and combinations of therapies
did not correspond to treatment response.
Other studies suggest that isotretinoin is the most effective treatment option when
it is used as a sole agent or in combination with others.
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 Welsch and Schaller
found a significant reduction in erythema and edema in 4 patients managed with ultralow-dose
isotretinoin and antihistamines with a mean duration of 14 months. Olvera-Cortés and
described 3 patients successfully treated with high-dose, long-term isotretinoin.
Smith and Cohen
described 5 patients with Morbihan's disease who experienced substantial clinical
improvement, although this was not noted until after 6 months of treatment. There
may be specific subtypes of solid persistent facial edema that are more responsive
to isotretinoin than antibiotics, which may account for discrepancies in the literature
regarding the treatment response of isotretinoin for patients with Morbihan's disease.
Isotretinoin seems to improve solid persistent facial edema through its anti-inflammatory
and immunomodulatory effects.
It also plays a role in the repair of structural tissue damage, as well as inhibitory
effects on fibroblast proliferation.
Both isotretinoin and clofazimine stimulate macrophage function and phagocytosis.
Medical management has been more effective when used early in the course of the disease,
before the development of fibrosis and permanent edema.
The use of isotretinoin to decrease the acne initially, followed by lymph massage
to decrease the remaining edema, has led to clinical improvement.
The etiology of solid persistent facial edema is poorly understood. Although its presence
in this patient may precede the development of an associated condition, the lack of
history of significant acne vulgaris, young age, and lack of associated symptoms are
unique and give credence to the possibility it is a separate disease entity apart
from inflammatory skin conditions in some patients.