Objective: To evaluate predictors of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) in a prospective cohort of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Methods: Routine clinical assessments as well as measurements of the diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide/alveolar volume (DLCO/VA) ratio and N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) level were performed in a prospective cohort of 101 SSc patients who did not have PAH or severe comorbidities. After a planned 36-month followup, we evaluated the predictive value of these parameters for the development of precapillary PAH, as demonstrated by cardiac catheterization, disease progression, and death. Criteria for cardiac catheterization were a systolic pulmonary artery pressure (PAP) of >40 mm Hg on echocardiography, a DLCO value of <50% without pulmonary fibrosis, and unexplained dyspnea.
Results: Eight patients developed PAH, 29 had disease progression, and 10 died during a median followup of 29 months. Kaplan-Meier analysis identified the following baseline parameters as being predictors of PAH: DLCO/VA ratio <70% or <60% (P<0.01 for each comparison), elevated plasma NT-proBNP level (>97th percentile of normal; P = 0.005), echocardiographically estimated systolic PAP >40 mm Hg (P=0.08), and erythrocyte sedimentation rate >28 mm/hour (P=0.015). In multivariate analyses, an elevated baseline NT-proBNP level (hazard ratio [HR] 9.97 [95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.69-62.42]) and a DLCO/VA ratio <60% (HR 36.66 [95% CI 3.45-387.6]) were predictors of the occurrence of PAH during followup. An increased NT-proBNP level together with a decreased DLCO/VA ratio of <70% was highly predictive of the occurrence of PAH during followup (HR 47.20 [95% CI 4.90-450.33]).
Conclusion: This prospective study identified a decreased DLCO/VA ratio and an increased NT-proBNP as predictors of PAH in SSc. Use of these markers should result in improved PAH risk stratification and allow earlier initiation of therapy.