Fecal calprotectin (FC) is a simple, non-invasive and reproducible test, which has been described to be highly elevated in patients with active inflammatory bowel diseases. Recently, few authors have reported increased levels of FC in SSc patients, although the relationship between FC levels and the degree of gastrointestinal involvement has not yet been determined in patients with SSc. Thus, this prospective study aimed to: 1) determine the prevalence of increased fecal calprotectin (FC) levels in unselected patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc); 2) make prediction about which SSc patients exhibit increased levels of FC; and 3) evaluate the correlation between increased levels of FC and digestive symptoms, and gastrointestinal involvement, including the presence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) using glucose H2/CH4 breath test. 125 consecutive patients with SSc underwent FC levels and glucose H2/CH4 breath test. All of the patients with SSc also completed a questionnaire on digestive symptoms, and a global symptom score (GSS) was calculated. 93 (74.4%) patients had abnormal levels of FC (>50 μg/g); 68 patients (54.4%) exhibited highly elevated levels of FC (>200 μg/g). A marked correlation was found between abnormal FC levels and GSS score of digestive symptoms, esophageal involvement and delayed gastric emptying. Moreover, we found a strong association between abnormal levels of FC and the presence of SIBO on glucose H2/CH4 breath test, with the higher correlation between the presence of SIBO and the level of FC ≥275 μg/g with an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.97 ± 0.001 (CI: 0.93-0.99; p<10(-6)); the sensitivity of FC level ≥275 μg/g for predicting SIBO was as high as 0.93, while the specificity was 0.95. Finally, eradication of SIBO was obtained in 52.4% of the SSc patients with a significant improvement of intestinal symptoms. Finally, after 3 months of rotating courses of alternative antibiotic therapy, eradication of SIBO was associated with significant decrease of FC levels in SSc patients. The current study underscores that abnormal FC levels were correlated with gastrointestinal impairment, especially SIBO. Because FC levels ≥275 μg/g were markedly associated with the presence of SIBO, our findings suggest that FC may be a helpful test in identifying the group of SSc patients at high risk for SIBO requiring glucose breath test to detect SIBO. Finally, we also suggest that FC levels may be helpful in SSc patients to assess SIBO eradication, as long-term antibiotic therapy is costly and carries risks such as the onset of pseudo-membranous colitis and SIBO-related antibiotic resistance.
Keywords: Fecal calprotectin; Gastrointestinal involvement; Inflammation; Predictive value; Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth; Systemic sclerosis.
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