Background: Isolated pulmonary hypertension (PHT) is now the most frequent cause of disease-related death in limited cutaneous scleroderma, the commonest disease variant of this disabling connective tissue disorder. Endothelin-1 receptor antagonists provide symptomatic benefit but to date have not been shown to prolong survival.
Aim: To determine the frequency, disease characteristics and survival of symptomatic patients with isolated PHT in our cohort of scleroderma patients.
Methods: Systematic review of the clinical course of all patients registered on the South Australian Scleroderma Register, a population-based register of 374 living and 234 deceased patients with scleroderma.
Results: Thirty-four patients were identified with isolated PHT, the majority with limited scleroderma. From our deceased register, we estimate that >11% of patients with this limited variant will develop this complication. Isolated PHT occurs as a late-stage complication approximately 20 years after the first symptoms of scleroderma. Patients with isolated PHT were characterized by the presence of multiple telangiectasia, reduced nailfold capillary density, digital ulceration, gross reduction of diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide and echocardiographic evidence of elevated pulmonary artery pressure. Survival was significantly shortened as compared with those patients without this complication (P=0.002), with a mean survival of 2.5 years from symptomatic onset of PHT.
Conclusion: Isolated PHT occurs as a late-stage complication in > or =11% of patients with limited cutaneous scleroderma and leads to rapid death from right heart failure. The early use of endothelin-1 receptor antagonists may change the natural history of this fatal complication.