Nailfold capillaroscopy in systemic lupus erythematosus: A systematic review and critical appraisal

Autoimmun Rev. 2018 Apr;17(4):344-352. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2017.11.025. Epub 2018 Feb 8.


Nailfold capillaroscopy is an easy, non-invasive technique to assess microvascular involvement in rheumatic diseases. Multiple studies describe capillaroscopic changes in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), including a wide range of non-specific findings. On behalf of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) study group on microcirculation in rheumatic diseases, a systematic review was done to obtain all original research studies (in English) in which SLE patients had capillaroscopy. Forty such studies are identified. This article firstly provides a résumé of the results of these studies according to capillaroscopic parameters (density, dimensions, morphology, haemorrhages), semi-quantitative assessment and qualitative assessment of capillaroscopy in SLE patients. Secondly, the correlations between capillaroscopic parameters in SLE patients and clinical and laboratory parameters (including auto-immune parameters) are outlined. The following capillaroscopic parameters are found to be significantly more prevalent in SLE patients compared to healthy controls: tortuous capillaries, abnormal morphology and haemorrhages. Hairpin-shaped capillaries are significantly less prevalent than in healthy persons. The semi-quantitatively determined nailfold capillaroscopic score (NFC score) in SLE patients is also higher than in healthy controls. Several correlations between clinical and laboratory parameters and capillaroscopic parameters are identified in the review. Disease activity is correlated with NFC score in seven studies, with abnormal morphology (i.e. "meandering") in one study and with haemorrhages in one study. Frequent attacks of Raynaud's phenomenon (RP) and gangrene are significantly correlated with dilated capillaries. In two studies a possible correlation between anti-SSA antibodies and lower density of capillaries is withheld. About other immune parameters conflicting results are found. In one study a significant negative correlation is found between 24-hour proteinuria and abnormal morphology (i.e. "meandering"). For the first time, an overview of the nailfold capillaroscopic changes that have been described in SLE and their correlations with clinical and laboratory findings is given. Further large-scale research on the identification of capillaroscopic changes in SLE and their correlations with standardised clinical and laboratory parameters, is ongoing at the EULAR study group on microcirculation in rheumatic diseases.

Keywords: Capillaroscopy; EULAR study group on microcirculation in rheumatic diseases; Microcirculation; Systematic literature review; Systemic lupus erythematosus; Vasculopathy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Capillaries
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology*
  • Male
  • Microscopic Angioscopy / methods*
  • Nails / blood supply*