Cardiac complications of systemic sclerosis

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The majority of patients with SSc are believed to have subclinical primary cardiac involvement. Overt cardiac manifestations of SSc are associated with poor prognosis and can be difficult to manage. Primary myocardial disease, i.e. without systemic or pulmonary hypertension and without significant pulmonary or renal disease, is postulated to be due to microvascular ischaemia. Undetected early cardiac manifestations can progress silently to myocardial fibrosis. Symptoms may manifest without warning and can rapidly lead to arrhythmia and left and right heart dysfunction and failure. Of the currently practical screening methods, annual echocardiography and/or evaluation of N-terminal portion of pro-B-type natriuretic peptide concentrations should therefore be employed in SSc patients, in order to anticipate the development of cardiac symptoms. Although there is limited evidence in respect of specific therapeutic options, treatment of early abnormalities with calcium channel blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors may improve myocardial perfusion and function, while standard management of overt cardiac disease is equally appropriate in the SSc population. However, it remains to be seen if early intervention can limit the progression of these life-threatening complications.

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