Applied Evidence

Neurofibromatosis type 1: More than skin deep

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You play a key role in ongoing monitoring

In light of the condition’s heterogeneity, the goals of care include early recognition and treatment of complications, especially neoplasms; optimization of quality of life; and identification and treatment of comorbidities. Family physicians are well positioned to monitor patients with NF1 for age-specific disease manifestations and potential complications.9 All patients require:

  • an annual physical examination by a physician who is familiar with the individual and with the disease
  • annual ophthalmologic examination in early childhood; less frequent examination in older children and adults
  • regular blood pressure monitoring
  • other studies (eg, MRI) only as indicated on the basis of clinically apparent signs or symptoms
  • monitoring by an appropriate specialist if there are abnormalities of the central nervous, skeletal, or cardiovascular systems
  • referral to a neurologist for any unexplained neurological signs and symptoms. Referral should be urgent if there are acute symptoms of progressive sensory disturbance, motor deficit and incoordination, or sphincter disturbances since these might indicate an intracranial lesion or spinal cord compression. Headaches on waking, morning vomiting, and altered consciousness are suggestive of raised intracranial pressure.

Children with NF1 benefit from coordinated care between the FP and a pediatrician or other specialist familiar with the disease. In addition to providing usual well care, perform regular assessment of development and school performance. Pay careful attention to the cardiovascular system (particularly blood pressure) and evaluate for scoliosis.

Young adults should be continually monitored for all complications, especially hypertension. This population requires continued education about NF1 and its possible complications and may benefit from counseling about disease inheritance. Screen for anxiety and depression; offer psychological support.

Provide adult patients with education about complications, especially malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors and spinal cord compression.

Adults require monitoring based on patient preference and disease severity. For this population, blood pressure should be measured annually, or more frequently if the patient’s values indicate borderline hypertension. Provide education about complications, especially MPNSTs and spinal cord compression. Patients who have abnormalities of the central nervous, skeletal, or cardiovascular systems should be monitored by an appropriate specialist. If desired, the patient may be referred to a geneticist, especially if he or she expresses concern about inheritance. Cutaneous neurofibromas can be removed if they cause discomfort, although removal occasionally results in neurological deficit.

T. Grant Phillips, MD, Associate Director, UPMC Altoona Family Physicians Residency, 501 Howard Avenue, Altoona, PA 16601-4899; [email protected]


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