Purpose: We assessed the etiology and the prevalence of peripheral arterial and venous disease in leg ulcers in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis and analyzed the outcome after treatment of macrovascular disease.
Methods: A clinical study on 15 consecutive patients with chronic leg ulcers in collagen vascular disease (nine patients with rheumatoid arthritis, six patients with systemic sclerosis) was carried out in a referral center. Angiography was used when the ankle-arm index was less than 0.8; venography was used when venous reflux was detectable by means of a hand-held Doppler examination. Therapies included percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (seven patients), femoropopliteal bypass grafting surgery (one patient), saphenectomy of the greater saphenous vein (six patients), and split skin graft (11 patients).
Results: All patients with rheumatoid arthritis exhibited a multifactorial etiology of their ulcers: four of nine patients had peripheral arterial disease, and five of nine patients had venous insufficiency. In one of these patients, arterial and venous disease was combined. Five of six patients with systemic sclerosis exhibited a multifactorial etiology of their ulcers: three of six patients had peripheral arterial disease, and three of six patients had venous insufficiency. One of these patients had both arterial and venous disease. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, healing was achieved in six of nine patients, and marked improvement occurred in two of nine patients. A below-knee amputation was necessary in one patient with rheumatoid vasculitis. In patients with systemic sclerosis, healing was achieved in three of six patients, and marked improvement occurred in the other three patients.
Conclusion: Most leg ulcers in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis disclose a multifactorial etiology. Relevant arterial and venous disease can be found in approximately half the patients. Our study suggests that revascularization and vein surgery improve the healing of leg ulcers in patients with collagen vascular disease. A prospective trial is now required to confirm these results.