Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum

oPatientPlus articles are written by UK doctors and are based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. They are designed for health professionals to use, so you may find the language more technical than the condition leaflets.

Synonyms: include - PXE and Grönblad-Strandberg syndrome This is a genetic connective tissue disorder with progressive calcification and fragmentation of elastic fibres in the skin, the retina and the cardiovascular system. It is important to recognise the disease early to minimise the problem of retinal or gastrointestinal (GI) haemorrhage and cardiovascular complications. It can also involve the urinary tract and lungs.


This is between 1 in 70,000 and 1 in 100,000 but milder cases occur and are not diagnosed.[1] Presentation can be highly variable and phenotypic penetration may be incomplete.[2] It affects females twice as often as males. It affects all races. Modes of inheritance are both autosomal dominant and autosomal recessive. 90% of cases are thought to be recessive but some may be new mutations. Both dominant and recessive genes have been mapped to chromosome 13 at 16p13.1.[1]

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General points

  • The first lesions to be noted are on the skin in the lateral part of the neck. Skin lesions begin in childhood but they are not usually noted until adolescence. The complaint is purely cosmetic. In some people skin lesions do not appear until the seventh decade of life or later.
  • Mucosal involvement follows, leading to GI haemorrhage with melaena, frank bleeding, occult blood in the stool, or haematemesis.
  • Patients may complain of fatigue from chronic blood loss or claudication from blood vessel involvement.
  • Slowly, as the disease progresses, patients note more severe skin lesions and there may be cardiovascular disease like angina and hypertension.
  • Haematuria has also been reported.
  • Retinal haemorrhages with loss of central vision occur after the fourth decade of life.

Skin signs

  • Small, yellow papules are seen in a linear or reticular pattern and may coalesce to form plaques. The skin is variously described as like a plucked chicken, Moroccan leather, or as having a cobblestone appearance. Usually, these changes are first noted on the lateral part of the neck and later involve the antecubital fossae, the axillae, the popliteal fossae, the inguinal and periumbilical areas and also the oral, vaginal, and rectal mucosa.
  • The lesions are symmetrical and may involve the whole body, but this is unusual.
  • As the disease progresses, the skin of the neck, the axillae, and the groin may become soft, lax, and wrinkled, hanging in folds. This can be corrected by plastic surgery.
  • Acneiform lesions and chronic granulomatous nodules have been reported in the literature. The cutaneous lesions of pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE) usually remain unchanged throughout life.
  • Elastosis perforans serpiginosa may coexist with PXE. This is a rare disorder of elastic tissue of the skin, which affects males more than females. It may be idiopathic, related to other disorders such as Down's syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan's syndrome, and it can be a reaction to penicillamine in about 1% of those who receive the drug.

Eye signs

  • The characteristic features are angioid streaks of the retina, which are grey to reddish brown curvilinear bands radiating from the optic disc.
  • Angioid streaks result from calcification of the elastic fibres in Bruch's membrane of the retina, with cracking and fissuring. This ocular disease is bilaterally symmetrical and is several years after the onset of cutaneous lesions, in patients aged 20-40 years. Angioid streaks are present in 85% of patients with PXE. Although these lesions are highly characteristic of PXE, they are not pathognomonic. Angioid streaks are found in a variety of other conditions, such as sickle cell disease, thalassaemia,[3] Paget's disease of the bone, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
  • Fibrovascular ingrowth in the retina may lead to retinal haemorrhages - a serious complication of the disease.
  • Loss of central vision progresses with each haemorrhage, but peripheral vision is always spared.
  • Before bleeding occurs, a subretinal net often forms that can be detected by an Amsler grid and intravenous fluorescein angiography. Before angioid streaks are visible there is often leopard spotting of the posterior pole of the retina, concurrent with the onset of skin lesions. Yellowish speckled mottling is suggestive of early retinopathy.

Cardiovascular system signs

  • Cardiovascular disease is usually the last feature to be recognised, although intermittent claudication may occur quite early.[4] Calcification of the elastic media and intima of the blood vessels leads to various physical findings. Peripheral pulses are often much reduced. Renal artery disease causes hypertension, and coronary artery disease causes angina and myocardial infarction. Mitral valve prolapse often occurs. This prolapse may not be significant unless there is also mitral regurgitation.
  • GI haemorrhage is usually from the stomach and is the most significant vascular complication. The calcified submucosal vessels are very fragile. Bleeding may occur early in the disease and without warning. 10% of patients have a GI haemorrhage at some time in their lives. Less commonly, bleeding may occur in the urinary tract or cerebrovascular system.
  • Haematuria or potentially fatal increases in intracranial pressure are found.

An example of saggy skin in the axilla.


Loss of elastic tissue in the neck.

  • Dermatofibrosis lenticularis (Buschke-Ollendorff syndrome).
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
  • Localised acquired cutaneous pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE).
  • Marfan's syndrome.
  • Severe actinic damage to the neck.
  • Long-term penicillamine therapy.

Blood tests

  • FBC for Fe-deficient anaemia from bleeding.
  • Occult blood for GI haemorrhage.
  • Urinalysis for blood.
  • Serum calcium and serum phosphate are sometimes elevated but usually normal.


Other procedures

  • Ophthalmic examination is essential to detect early signs of retinopathy, angioid streaks, and retinal haemorrhages. Laser treatment may spare vision.
  • Endoscopy is indicated for any form of frank GI bleeding.
  • Ankle/brachial blood pressure using Doppler methods is useful in patients with intermittent claudication or significantly diminished peripheral pulses.
  • Biopsy can give histological confirmation of the diagnosis.

General measures

  • Smoking aggravates the condition.
  • Because of the risk of cardiovascular disease, advice about diet and exercise should be given as for anyone at high risk. A low-calcium diet[5] may also help, especially in earlier life.
  • Avoid contact sports to reduce the risk of damage to the eyes.
  • Vitamins A, C, and E and zinc supplements[6] may reduce the risk of haemorrhage.
  • All patients with pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE) should be monitored on a regular basis by an ophthalmologist.
  • Genetic counselling should be offered to assess the risk of having affected children. Is it autosomal dominant or recessive form? Pregnancy is well tolerated,[7] except for an increase in the number of miscarriages in the first trimester but multiple pregnancies do aggravate the disease course.


  • Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs because of the risk of GI haemorrhage.
  • With the exception of aspirin, there should be standard management of high-risk coronary heart disease..
  • If there is mitral regurgitation, antibiotic prophylaxis may be indicated for dentistry, etc.
  • Pentoxifylline may reduce blood viscosity but it can also increase risk of haemorrhage.
  • Interferon alfa-2a may be a potential treatment.


Plastic surgery can correct the sagging skin.

The problem is mostly cosmetic and there is a normal life expectancy but there can be problems of haemorrhage, especially from the GI tract, as well as problems with arteries and prolapsed mitral valve.[8]

Ocular involvement with retinal haemorrhages leads to the progressive loss of central vision. Peripheral vision is always spared.

Involvement of the elastic media and intima of the arteries causes claudication, hypertension, angina, myocardial infarction, and GI or cerebral haemorrhage.
Cerebral and GI haemorrhage or coronary occlusion, although uncommon, may be fatal.

Life expectancy is normal, although bleeding and arterial disease can cut it short.

There is no means of prevention and there is no antenatal test for the condition. First-degree relatives should be screened for the disease so that action can be taken at an early stage.[9]

Further reading & references

  1. Struk B, Neldner KH, Rao VS, et al; Mapping of both autosomal recessive and dominant variants of pseudoxanthoma elasticum to chromosome 16p13.1. Hum Mol Genet. 1997 Oct;6(11):1823-8.
  2. Sherer DW, Bercovitch L, Lebwohl M; Pseudoxanthoma elasticum: significance of limited phenotypic expression in parents of affected offspring. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001 Mar;44(3):534-7.
  3. Aessopos A, Farmakis D, Loukopoulos D; Elastic tissue abnormalities resembling pseudoxanthoma elasticum in beta thalassemia and the sickling syndromes. Blood. 2002 Jan 1;99(1):30-5.
  4. Mendelsohn G, Bulkley BH, Hutchins GM; Cardiovascular manifestations of Pseudoxanthoma elasticum. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1978 Jun;102(6):298-302.
  5. Renie WA, Pyeritz RE, Combs J, et al; Pseudoxanthoma elasticum: high calcium intake in early life correlates with severity. Am J Med Genet. 1984 Oct;19(2):235-44.
  6. Gordon SG, Hinkle LL, Shaw E; Cysteine protease characteristics of the proteoglycanase activity from normal and pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE) fibroblasts. J Lab Clin Med. 1983 Sep;102(3):400-10.
  7. Elejalde BR, de Elejalde MM, Samter T, et al; Manifestations of pseudoxanthoma elasticum during pregnancy: a case report and review of the literature. Am J Med Genet. 1984 Aug;18(4):755-62.
  8. Przybojewski JZ, Maritz F, Tiedt FA, et al; Pseudoxanthoma elasticum with cardiac involvement. A case report and review of the literature. S Afr Med J. 1981 Feb 21;59(8):268-75.
  9. Laube S, Moss C; Pseudoxanthoma elasticum. Arch Dis Child. 2005 Jul;90(7):754-6.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Dr Richard Draper
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1337 (v22)
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