Update on disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs in the treatment of systemic sclerosis

Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2003 May;29(2):409-26. doi: 10.1016/s0889-857x(03)00026-7.


Treatment of systemic sclerosis has been somewhat haphazard and treatment has often been "borrowed" from the experience gained from treating other connective tissue diseases. There was a period of time that was focused mainly on organ-specific manifestations of systemic sclerosis and some advance in preventing vital organ damage (such as renal crisis) was achieved. The vast improvement in mortality from the use of ACE inhibitors raises one's hopes for other effective therapeutic interventions. At this juncture, the evidence is strong that the ACE inhibitors that are used in scleroderma renal crisis are disease-modifying, even without proving it by a randomized controlled trial. The evidence is strong that the use of epoprostenol for primary pulmonary hypertension is life-saving; however, whether epoprostenol is life-saving in the pulmonary hypertension in scleroderma remains to be proven. There are suggestions that bosentan (for the pulmonary hypertension of scleroderma), cyclophosphamide (for SSc alveolitis), stem cell transplant, interferon-gamma (for interstitial pulmonary fibrosis), and methotrexate (for the skin thickening of diffuse scleroderma) may improve organ function or functional activities, but whether they are truly disease-modifying remains to be proven. As we increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of systemic sclerosis and we learn how better to design trials for systemic sclerosis, we may be more successful in developing optimal disease-modifying therapy. Although the treatment of systemic sclerosis remains difficult, there are an increasing number of potentially effective regimens that are undergoing clinical investigations. A rational approach to therapy seems possible, based on a hypothesis of the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis. Thus, there is accumulating evidence that supports the use of prostacyclin derivatives to treat systemic sclerosis, some evidence that antifibrotic regimens may be effective, and moderate evidence that immunosuppression also may be effective in certain stages of this disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Therapy / trends*
  • Humans
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / drug therapy*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / pathology
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / physiopathology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents