New Study Suggests as Many as Half of Systemic Sclerosis Patients Affected by Sarcopenia

According to a publication from Scleroderma News, a recent study published in Rheumatology International suggests that the majority of systemic sclerosis patients experience sarcopenia as a result of their condition. Perhaps more importantly, the same study suggests that sarcopenia may be a signal of overall disease activity — being associated with a number of other health and nutritional parameters.

About Systemic Sclerosis

Systemic sclerosis is an autoimmune condition characterized by diffuse fibrotic (scarring) effects around the body. Abnormal amounts of scar tissue may form on the skin or in major organs or tissues. The skin may thicken in places — particularly on the hands or face. Many patients first notice these skin symptoms affect their fingers first.

Like other autoimmune conditions, systemic sclerosis is caused by a patient’s immune system mistakenly activating and targeting healthy organs and tissues as though they were foreign pathogens. The result, especially over time, can be significant damage to certain parts of the body.

No single originating cause of systemic sclerosis has been identified, but in all likelihood that’s because the condition is caused by the confluence of a number of what may be independently insignificant factors. Several genes have been identified with increased likelihood of developing systemic sclerosis, most commonly those that form a family of genes called the HLA complex.

Genes of the HLA complex are responsible for helping the immune system differentiate between healthy proteins and those made by pathogens like viruses or bacteria. The variation of this group of genes is partially why human immune systems are so diverse between individuals, but there is some evidence that suggests that certain “normal” variations of the HLA genes may increase an individuals likelihood of developing systemic sclerosis.

Although no cure exists for systemic sclerosis, treatments exist that can target specific symptoms or affected areas. Some cases, particularly those with cardiac, pulmonary, or hepatic involvement, may eventually be fatal. Overall 10-year survival rate is about 65%.

Sarcopenia in Most Systemic Sclerosis Patients?

Sarcopenia is a health condition characterized by the weakening and degeneration of skeletal muscle. Patients with rheumatic diseases (diseases characterized by the inflammation of the body’s connecting tissues) experience rates of sarcopenia higher than those of the rest of the population. Recent studies suggested that sarcopenia may affect around 22% of systemic sclerosis patients.

However, in a brand new study that used diagnosis criteria from two different organizations, researchers found that the rate was closer to 50%. In a study of 62 systemic sclerosis patients, researchers tested the diagnostic guidelines Relative Skeletal Mass Index (RSMI) and hand grip strength (HGS). When consulting RSMI, 42% of the 62 patients were diagnosed with sarcopenia. When the HGS was administered to the same group, 54.8% met diagnostic conditions for sarcopenia.

The evidence suggests that sarcopenia may be even more common or aggressive in systemic sclerosis than we initially believed. Sarcopenia was also positively associated with worsened lung function, and significantly lower quality of life.

Researchers believe sarcopenia might be useful in predicting the prognosis of certain systemic sclerosis patients, which may improve treatment outcomes.


What do you think of this interesting development? Do you think it will improve researchers’ ability to diagnose systemic sclerosis and treat it early? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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