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Abstract

Objective

An association between systemic autoimmune diseases and atherosclerosis has been described in many connective tissue diseases, and this association is known to lead to increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is characterized by multisystem organ inflammation, endothelial wall damage, and vasculopathy. There are many markers of endothelial dysfunction and/or atherosclerotic risk, such as asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA), arterial stiffness parameters, carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT), and coronary flow reserve (CFR) assessed by transthoracic echocardiography. The aim of this pilot study was to use various endothelial and atherosclerosis markers to identify early cardiovascular involvement in a group of SSc patients.

Methods

The study involved 20 patients (2 men and 18 women with a mean ± SD age of 52.96 ± 12.51 years) with diffuse SSc who had no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 20 age- and sex-matched controls. All subjects underwent a dipyridamole echocardiographic stress test that included a determination of CFR and an evaluation of CIMT, arterial stiffness, and plasma ADMA levels.

Results

All of the arterial wall measurements of the patients with diffuse SSc were significantly different from those of the controls, and both right and left CIMT, pulse wave velocity, and stiffness index (β) were significantly elevated in the SSc patients compared to the healthy controls. Moreover, in patients with diffuse SSc, CFR was significantly lower (P = 0.0033) and plasma ADMA levels were higher (P < 0.0001) than in healthy controls.

Conclusion

SSc patients without any clinical evidence of CVD seem to have had subclinical atherosclerosis, which was suggested by early impairment of coronary microcirculation and macrovascular involvement.