Gastrointestinal features of scleroderma

Curr Opin Rheumatol. 1996 Nov;8(6):569-75. doi: 10.1097/00002281-199611000-00012.


Gastrointestinal involvement occurs in most patients with systemic sclerosis and is subclinical in about one third. Early pathology is characterized by vasculopathy, resulting in tissue ischemia and progressive dysfunction. Noninvasive esophageal studies using semisolid bolus scintigraphy are sensitive but lack specificity. Long-term treatment of reflux with high-dose proton pump inhibitors appears safe and effective for symptom relief and may prevent recurrence of esophagitis and stricture. Dyspepsia may result from gastroparesis and antral distension. Gastric antral vascular ectasia is a vascular manifestation, and bleeding may be controlled endoscopically. Prokinetic agents effective in pseudoobstruction include metoclopramide, domperidone, cisapride, octreotide, and erythromycin. Patients with intestinal neuropathy or response to bolus octreotide are more probable long-term responders. The combination of octreotide and erythromycin may be particularly effective in systemic sclerosis. The combination of cisapride and erythromycin may cause serious cardiac arrhythmia and is contraindicated. Omeprazole may predispose to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Malabsorption not responding to antibiotic therapy should be investigated with small-bowel biopsy to rule out more unusual causes. Pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis may be due to excessive hydrogen production by intestinal bacteria altering the partial pressure of nitrogen in the intestinal wall. In selected cases, surgery for intestinal failure is an option with resection or bypass of affected segments or placement of enterostomy tubes for feeding or decompression. Careful preoperative characterization of intestinal segments is required.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Esophageal Diseases / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / therapy
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / pathology
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / physiopathology*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / therapy
  • Stomach Diseases / etiology