Objective: To evaluate the clinical and prognostic significance of palpable tendon friction rubs in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Methods: SSc patients evaluated prospectively at the University of Pittsburgh were examined serially for the presence of tendon friction rubs on physical examination. Demographic, clinical, and laboratory features of disease were obtained by patient examination, annual patient questionnaire, and medical record review. Patients were classified as having limited or diffuse scleroderma according to standard definitions. The prognostic significance of the presence of tendon friction rubs was determined using this comprehensive database.
Results: The SSc patients (n = 1,305) were first evaluated during 1972 through 1991 and were followed up for a mean of 6.3 years. Tendon friction rubs were detected most frequently in patients who had or who developed diffuse cutaneous involvement. There were strong correlations between the presence of tendon friction rubs and symptoms and signs typical of diffuse scleroderma, including more severe skin thickening, more frequent heart and kidney involvement, and decreased survival. In multiple regression analyses, the presence of 1 or more tendon friction rubs was one of the best predictors of both evolution to diffuse scleroderma and reduced survival.
Conclusion: The palpable tendon friction rub is an easily detected, inexpensively obtained physical examination finding which is highly associated with diffuse cutaneous scleroderma and decreased survival. This observation should lead to the early diagnosis of diffuse scleroderma and should identify patients at high risk for serious visceral involvement who are thus candidates for potential disease-modifying therapy.