Systemic sclerosis/scleroderma: a treatable multisystem disease.
Posted Dec 19 2009 12:00am
By Hinchcliff M. and Varga J.
Systemic sclerosis (systemic scleroderma) is a chronic connective tissue disease of unknown etiology that causes widespread microvascular damage and excessive deposition of collagen in the skin and internal organs. Raynaud phenomenon and scleroderma (hardening of the skin) are hallmarks of the disease.
The typical patient is a young or middle-age woman with a history of Raynaud phenomenon who presents with skin induration and internal organ dysfunction. Clinical evaluation and laboratory testing, along with pulmonary function testing, Doppler echocardiography, and high-resolution computed tomography of the chest, establish the diagnosis and detect visceral involvement.
Patients with systemic sclerosis can be classified into two distinct clinical subsets with different patterns of skin and internal organ involvement, autoantibody production, and survival. Prognosis is determined by the degree of internal organ involvement. Although no disease-modifying therapy has been proven effective, complications of systemic sclerosis are treatable, and interventions for organ-specific manifestations have improved substantially.
Medications (e.g., calcium channel blockers and angiotensin-II receptor blockers for Raynaud phenomenon, appropriate treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease) and lifestyle modifications can help prevent complications, such as digital ulcers and Barrett esophagus. Endothelin-1 receptor blockers and phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors improve pulmonary arterial hypertension.
The risk of renal damage from scleroderma renal crisis can be lessened by early detection, prompt initiation of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor therapy, and avoidance of high-dose corticosteroids. Optimal patient care includes an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to promptly and effectively recognize, evaluate, and manage complications and limit end-organ dysfunction.