Objectives: We aimed to test the hypothesis that exposure to immunosuppression in early systemic sclerosis (SSc) could modify the risk of developing new onset severe gastrointestinal (GIT) involvement.
Methods: A total of 762 subjects with <3 years of disease duration and without severe GIT disease at baseline study visit were identified from combined longitudinal cohort data from the Canadian Scleroderma Research Group (CSRG) and Australian Scleroderma Interest Group (ASIG). The primary exposure was ever use of methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate mofetil and/or azathioprine during the study period. Severe GIT disease was defined as: 1-malabsorption, 2-hyperalimentation, 3-pseudo-obstruction, and/or 4-≥10% weight loss in association with the use of antibiotics for bacterial overgrowth or oesophageal stricture. The change in the hazard of severe GIT disease due to exposure was estimated using a marginal structural Cox proportional hazards model fit by inverse probability of treatment weights (IPTW) to address potential confounding.
Results: Study subjects were 81.5% female, had a mean age of 53.7±13.0 years and mean disease duration at baseline of 1.4±0.8 years. During a mean follow-up of 4.0±2.6 years, severe GIT involvement developed in 11.6% of the 319 subjects exposed to immunosuppression and in 6.8% of the 443 unexposed subjects. In an IPTW-adjusted analysis, exposure to immunosuppression was not associated with severe GIT disease (weighted hazard ratio 0.91, 95% confidence interval 0.52-1.58).
Conclusions: In this large inception SSc cohort, the risk of severe GIT involvement was not modified by exposure to immunosuppression.