Objective: To determine if different categories of erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) elevation are associated with disease activity and/or damage in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Methods: We studied 2317 study visits in 553 SLE patients (> or = 4 American College of Rheumatology criteria, < or = 5 years' disease duration at enrollment) from a multiethnic (Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian) longitudinal study of outcome. A study visit was done every 6 months for the first year and annually thereafter. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) was measured using the Westergren method; results were expressed in 4 categories: < 25 (normal), 25-50 (mild elevation), 51-75 (moderate elevation), and > 75 (marked elevation) mm/h. Anti-dsDNA antibodies were measured at enrollment with the Crithidia luciliae assay. Disease activity was assessed with the Systemic Lupus Activity Measure (SLAM) and the Physician's Global Assessment (PGA). Because ESR is one of the measures evaluated in the SLAM, it was excluded from the total SLAM score. Disease damage was assessed with the Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics damage index (SDI). The relationship between the SLAM (total and PGA) and SDI scores (at baseline and for all visits) and anti-dsDNA antibodies (at enrollment) with ESR was examined by univariable and generalized estimating equation (GEE) regression analyses. Ethnicity, age, and sex were entered in all regression models.
Results: The cohort consisted of 89.7% women with mean age 36.8 (SD 12.6) years and disease duration 4.6 (SD 3.2) years. GEE analyses showed that increasing levels of ESR and anti-dsDNA antibody positivity were independently associated with SLAM and PGA scores, at enrollment and for all visits. Overall, the associations of ESR with SLAM and PGA scores were stronger than for the presence of anti-dsDNA antibodies. At baseline, there was no relationship of ESR elevation or anti-dsDNA positivity with SDI scores. However, when all visits were studied, moderate and marked elevations of ESR were independently associated with SDI scores.
Conclusion: Mild, moderate, and marked ESR elevations are strongly associated with disease activity in SLE. Moderate and marked ESR elevations are also associated with damage accrual. These associations are stronger than those for the presence of anti-dsDNA antibodies. Our data suggest that ESR could be used to assess disease activity and predict organ/system damage in a relatively rapid and inexpensive manner in SLE.