Role of Capillaroscopy in Early Diagnosis of Ionizing Radiation Damage in Healthcare Professionals

Medicina (Kaunas). 2023 Jul 24;59(7):1356. doi: 10.3390/medicina59071356.


Background and Objectives: Chronic ionizing radiation has biological effects on exposed healthcare workers, particularly on the skin. Capillaroscopy of the nail bed represents an easy, low cost, and non-invasive test to obtain information on the effects of chronic radiation exposure in healthcare workers. The aim of this study was to evaluate which capillaroscopic parameters are most associated with biological damage by chronic radiation exposure. Materials and Methods: We conducted a case-control study, in which cases were represented by healthcare workers exposed to ionizing radiations and controls by healthy subjects. We recorded anamnestic and personal data, including age and gender, before capillaroscopic examination of proximal nail folds of the fingers of both hands. Ten morphological qualitative/quantitative parameters were taken into consideration, assigning each of them a score on a scale from 0 to 3 (0 = no changes, 1 = <33% abnormal capillaries, 2 = 33-66% of abnormal capillaries, 3 = >66% of abnormal capillaries, for single magnification field at 200×). The parameters evaluated were: changes in the length, distribution and density of capillary loops, reduced visibility, decreased flow, visibility of the sub-papillary plexus, and presence of morphological atypia, such as ectasia, tortuosity, hemorrhage, and signs of neoangiogenesis. Results: We enrolled 20 cases and 20 controls. The two groups did not differ significantly for gender and age. Cases differed from controls in a statistically significant way for the following parameters: decreased capillary length (number of shortened capillaries) (p < 0.05), increased visibility of the subpapillary venous plexus (p < 0.05), tortuosity (p < 0.01), neoangiogenesis (p < 0.01), and ectasias (p < 0.001). Conclusions: We found that some capillaroscopic parameters, such as variability in length of capillaries, visibility of subpapillary venous plexus, presence of ectasias, tortuosity, and neoangiogenesis signs, are particularly associated with exposure to ionizing radiation in healthcare professionals. Alterations of these parameters may represent capillaroscopic clues of biological damage by chronic radiation exposure in healthcare professionals. Based on these observations, capillaroscopy may provide clinical data useful to the prevention and follow-up of radiation-exposed healthcare professionals.

Keywords: capillaroscopy; chronic radiation exposure; healthcare professionals; ionizing radiation.

MeSH terms

  • Capillaries*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Microscopic Angioscopy*

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.