Systemic Sclerosis Patients Are More Prone to Atherosclerosis

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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shutterstock_224738230In a new study entitled “Subclinical atherosclerosis and peripheral vascular disease in systemic sclerosis patients: Relation to potential risk factors,” authors suggest that patients with Systemic sclerosis may have increased risk of developing subclinical atherosclerotic macro vascular disease. The team highlights that further research is necessary to tackle both the cause for increased risk of atherosclerosis and the vessel damage in the SSc patient population. The study was published in the journal The Egyptian Rheumatologist.

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is characterized by diffuse fibrosis, degenerative changes, and vascular abnormalities in several internal organs, including heart, kidney, lungs, as well as skin and joints. Vessel damage in SSc is considered a primary pathological consequence of SSc and has been recently suggested that SSc patients produce anti-angiogenic factors (i.e., factors that inhibit angiogenesis, the process by which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels).

Subclinical atherosclerosis (characterized by arteries’ walls thickening due to excessive build up of plaque around the artery wall) was reported to occur in Egyptian patients affected by diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus among others. Since increased levels of a well-validated marker of subclinical atherosclerosis, the Carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), was reported in SSc patients, in this study the authors investigated the presence of subclinical atherosclerosis in Egyptian SSc patients and determined the existence of vascular risk factors.

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The study included 30 patients diagnosed with SSc in agreement with the American College of Rheumatology criteria, and 20 healthy individuals. The team performed non-invasive vascular tests to identify areas of vascular blockage and disease — carotid duplex scanning measuring common carotid arteries (CCA) intima-media thickness (IMT), and ankle brachial pressure index (ABPI) — and measured traditional vascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, lipid content and screened for steroid and immunosuppressive medications usage.

They found that patients with SSc display an increased risk for subclinical atherosclerosis and peripheral arterial disease when compared to healthy individuals. The increased risk, the authors suggest, may be associated with several risk factors, including increased systolic blood pressure (i.e., the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats), dyslipidemia (i.e., an abnormal amount of lipids, such as cholesterol, in the blood), long disease duration and older age.