Life-threatening complications of systemic sclerosis

Crit Care Clin. 2002 Oct;18(4):819-39. doi: 10.1016/s0749-0704(02)00023-4.


Pulmonary arterial hypertension is common in patients with SSc. Fig. 1 shows the diagnostic and therapeutic approach to PAH in SSc. Doppler echocardiography may suggest the diagnosis, but RHC is necessary to confirm PAH and to measure vasoreactivity. Therapy is directed at the underlying connective tissue disease. Vasoreactive patients often benefit from therapy with high-dose calcium-channel [figure: see text] blockers, but most patients are not vasoreactive. Intravenous epoprostenol and oral endothelin-1 receptor antagonists improve hemodynamic measurements and symptoms in SSc-associated PAH. The therapy of right ventricular failure is focused on vasodilators, inotropes, and diuretics with careful attention to avoiding systemic hypotension. The scleroderma pulmonary-renal syndrome and the scleroderma renal crisis are distinct syndromes with different clinical presentations, histopathologic manifestations, treatments, and outcomes. The scleroderma pulmonary renal syndrome is an autoimmune vasculitis of kidney and lung associated with normal blood pressure. Treatment is supportive, and prognosis is dismal. In contrast, scleroderma renal crisis is associated with systemic hypertension, onion skinning of afferent arterioles, and response to ACE inhibition and renal replacement therapy. Pericardial effusions are common but only occasionally lead to tamponade. Esophageal dysmotility is often associated with aspiration, leading to pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, or ARDS. Diffuse bowel involvement may result in pseudo-obstruction, bacterial overgrowth, or malabsorption. Prokinetic agents, antibiotics, and parenteral nutrition may be required.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catheterization, Swan-Ganz / methods
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / diagnosis*
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / etiology
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / therapy*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / complications*
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Right / drug therapy


  • Vasodilator Agents