Intestinal Involvement in Systemic Sclerosis: A Clinical Review

Dig Dis Sci. 2018 Apr;63(4):834-844. doi: 10.1007/s10620-018-4977-8. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a chronic systemic disease characterized by microvasculopathy, autoantibodies, and extensive fibrosis. Intestinal involvement is frequent in SSc and represents a significant cause of morbidity. The pathogenesis of intestinal involvement includes vascular damage, nerve dysfunction, smooth muscle atrophy, and fibrosis, causing hypomotility, which leads to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), malabsorption, malnutrition, diarrhea, pseudo-obstruction, constipation, pneumatosis intestinalis, and fecal incontinence. Manifestations are often troublesome and reduce quality of life and life expectancy. Assessment of intestinal involvement includes screening for small intestine hypomotility, malnutrition, SIBO, and anorectal dysfunction. Current management of intestinal manifestations is largely inadequate. Patients with diarrhea are managed with low-fat diet, medium-chain triglycerides, avoidance of lactulose and fructose, and control of bacterial overgrowth with antibiotics for SIBO. In diarrhea/malabsorption, bile acid sequestrant and pancreatic enzyme supplementation may help, and nutritional support is needed. General measures are applied for constipation, and intestine rest plus antibiotics for pseudo-obstruction. Fecal incontinence is managed with measures for associated SIBO, or constipation, and with behavioral therapies. Pneumatosis intestinalis is usually an incidental finding that does not require any specific treatment. Immunomoduation should be considered early in intestinal involvement. Multidisciplinary approach of intestinal manifestations in SSc by gastroenterologists and rheumatologists is required for optimum management.

Keywords: Bacterial overgrowth; Malnutrition; Pseudo-obstruction; Systemic sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Intestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Intestinal Diseases / therapy
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / complications*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / diagnosis*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / therapy