DOCTORS were shocked when a woman turned up at a clinic with a rare, but deadly gum disease.
The unnamed woman's teeth were almost entirely engulfed by her overgrown gums.
She told medics her gums had started to grow around six weeks earlier.
The patient had also been suffering nose bleeds and had three nasty ulcers on her face, causing her skin to be "eaten away".
After inspecting her gums, doctors noted their bizarre grainy appearance.
And they recognised it as a sign of a condition dubbed "strawberry gingivitis" – because the gum tissue can look so like the fruit.
The medical name for the condition is granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA).
Dr Maryam Ghiasi, one of the medics who treated the woman at Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran, said lab tests confirmed the diagnosis of GPA.
Scans of the head and chest showed no signs of the disease in the patient's sinuses, but several nodules in her lungs.
In a case report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Ghiasi said: "Strawberry gingivitis is a rare manifestation of granulomatosis with polyangiitis, and it's clinical presentation is highly suggestive of the disease."
She said the patient was treated, but never returned for her follow up, meaning they do not know what happened to her.
Rare but deadly condition
GPA is a rare condition, where the blood vessels become inflamed, the NHS states.
It tends to affect the ears, nose, sinuses, kidneys and lungs.
And without treatment, the condition can prove very serious – even fatal.
Speaking about the case, Dr Joseph Nemeth, a peridontist from the US, said: "The tissue can look like strawberries.
"However, it is a symptom of a very serious vascular or blood vessel disease.
"If not caught early it can be fatal.
"As dentists we are often the first to actually see something like this because the patient might not be aware of symptoms other than what's going on in their mouth.
"This is an extreme case. These cases are not common, but they do occur.
"A blood vessel disease can be treated if caught early but, if not, it can be fatal."
Signs to watch out for
The "strawberry gums" this woman developed are a rare symptom of GPA.
Other signs include:
- general tiredness, a high temperature, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss and joint pain
- ear, nose and throat problems – like a blocked or runny nose, crusts around the nostrils, face pain, earache and hearing loss
- lung problems – like a cough you can't shift, shortness of breath or wheezing and chest pain
- kidney problems – blood in your pee
- skin problems – like rashes, lumps and small purple spots
- eye problems – conjunctivitis, swollen eyelids and double vision
- gut problems – like tummy pain, diarrhoea and blood in your poo
If it's not treated, GPA can be deadly because it causes severe damage. It can stop the kidneys working properly, for example.
It's thought to be caused by a problem with the immune system, which makes it attack the blood vessels in the body.
Experts don't know exactly why it happens, but believe a virus or bacterial infection can often trigger GPA.
And so doctors use medication to try and dampen the immune system.
It's a long-term condition but can be managed and means patients can lead normal lives.
It's likely a person diagnosed with GPA will be on medication for a long time, and will have to go for regular check ups to keep a track of the disease.
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