Systemic sclerosis (SSc) affects both microvascular structure and function. Laser Doppler imaging (LDI) and thermal imaging can be used to measure cutaneous blood vessel function. Nailfold capillaroscopy (NC) measures capillary morphology. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between capillary morphology and blood flow, and to determine which combination of techniques allows the best discrimination between patients with SSc, primary Raynaud's phenomenon (RP), and healthy controls.
NC was performed in 16 patients with SSc, 14 patients with primary RP, and 16 healthy controls. In addition, participants underwent cold stimulus with cold water. Hands were imaged to monitor rewarming and reperfusion. Nailfold morphologic features were measured and baseline images and rewarming curves were analyzed.
Significant differences were found between groups (analysis of variance) for capillary morphologic features and rewarming curve characteristics. A correlation (P < 0.001) was found between LDI and thermal imaging at baseline (0.667) and maximum (0.729) blood flow and skin temperature, and for the areas under the rewarming curves (0.684). Receiver operating characteristic curves indicated that NC, thermal imaging, and LDI allowed 89%, 74%, and 72%, respectively, of SSc patient data to be correctly classified versus primary RP patients and controls.
NC, LDI, and thermal imaging each independently provide good discrimination between patients with SSc and those with primary RP and healthy controls (NC being the most suitable technique for classifying patient groups). However, a combination of all 3 techniques improves classification. LDI and thermal imaging give equivalent information on dynamic changes in the cutaneous microcirculation; however, these only weakly correspond to capillary morphology.