Objective: Impairment of the microcirculation is a cardinal feature of systemic sclerosis (SSc). Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) has improved the assessment of vascular lesions of the hand. The aim of this study was to evaluate vascular abnormalities in the hands of patients with SSc, using MRA.
Methods: Thirty-eight patients with SSc were compared with 7 healthy subjects and 7 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Among patients with SSc, the mean +/- SD age was 52 +/- 14 years, the mean +/- SD Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) score was 0.9 +/- 0.8, and the mean +/- SD systolic pulmonary artery pressure (PAP) was 32.2 +/- 8.4 mm Hg. Ten patients had a history of digital ulcers. The MRA protocol consisted of 4 successive acquisitions, each lasting 52 seconds, of 3-dimensional coronal cross-sectional images after gadolinium injection. The primary criteria were distality and quality of arterial opacification, avascular areas, and venous return.
Results: Thirty-five of the patients with SSc (92%) had at least 1 true digital artery that did not reach the first phalanx at the initial arterial analysis, and 23 patients (61%) had > or =4 damaged arteries. Twenty-eight patients (74%) had thin arteries, and 20 patients (53%) had >1 avascular area. Nearly all patients (35 of 38 [92%]) had abnormal venous return, and a lack of visible venous return was observed in 16 patients (42%). Results for all of the control subjects were considered normal. Digital ulcers were more frequently observed in patients with SSc who had > or =4 damaged proper digital arteries compared with other patients (P = 0.003), the HAQ score was associated with thin-caliber arteries (P = 0.04), and systolic PAP was associated with tissue enhancement secondary to ischemia (P = 0.04).
Conclusion: These results show the substantial vascular involvement in SSc. Lesions were diffuse and involved both arterial and venous vessels of small caliber as well as the microcirculation.