Reduced red blood cell velocity in nail-fold capillaries as a sensitive and specific indicator of microcirculation injury in systemic sclerosis

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Abstract

Objective

To assess red blood cell velocity in finger nail-fold capillaries using video capillaroscopy in patients with SSc and other collagen diseases.

Methods

This study included 127 patients with SSc as well as patients with SLE (n=33), DM/PM (n=21), RA (n=13) and APS (n=12), and 20 healthy subjects. Red blood cell velocity was evaluated using frame-to-frame determination of the position of capillary plasma gaps.

Results

The mean red blood cell velocity was significantly decreased in patients with SSc compared to healthy controls (63.0% reduction) and patients with other conditions. Mean blood velocity was similar between patients with dcSSc and lcSSc. Importantly, even SSc patients with normal or non-specific nail-fold video capillaroscopic (NVC) patterns or a scleroderma early NVC pattern exhibited a significantly lower red blood cell velocity compared to healthy controls (51.7 and 61.4% reduction, respectively) or patients with other conditions, despite normal or mild capillary changes. Patients with the scleroderma active and late NVC pattern showed a more decreased blood velocity (65.5 and 66.2% reduction, respectively). This reduced blood velocity was significantly associated with NVC findings, including capillary ramification and capillary loss. Although remarkably reduced velocity was observed in SSc patients with intractable digital ulcers (72.1% reduction), it was significantly improved by lipo-prostaglandin E1 (lipo-PGE1) infusion.

Conclusion

Our results suggest that reduced blood velocity is a hallmark of SSc. Furthermore, measurement of red blood cell velocity may be useful in evaluating therapeutic effects on microcirculation.

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