OBJECTIVES: In patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc), fingertip digital ulcers (DUs) are believed to be ischaemic, and extensor surface DUs a result of mechanical factors/microtrauma. Our aim was to assess blood flow response to topical glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) compared to placebo in SSc DUs, looking for differences in pathophysiology between fingertip and extensor lesions.
METHOD: This was a double-blind, randomised, crossover, placebo-controlled study. Sixteen (6 fingertip, 10 extensor) DUs were each studied twice (one day apart): once with GTN and once with placebo ointment. Perfusion at the DU centre ('DUCore') and periphery ('DUPeriphery'), as measured by laser Doppler imaging was performed before and immediately after ointment application, then every 10min, up to 90min post-application. We calculated the area under the response curve (AUC) and the ratio of peak perfusion to baseline, then compared these between GTN and placebo.
RESULTS: Perfusion was lower in the DUCore compared to the DUPeriphery (ratio of 0.52). The microvessels of the DUCore were responsive to GTN, with an increase in perfusion, with a similar effect in both fingertip and extensor DUs. The AUC and peak/baseline perfusion difference in means (ratio, 95% confidence interval) between GTN and placebo at the DUCore were 1.2 (1.0-1.6) and 1.2 (1.0-1.5) respectively, and at the DUPeriphery were 1.1 (0.8-1.6) and 1.0 (0.9-1.2) respectively.
CONCLUSION: DUs (both fingertip and extensor) were responsive to topical GTN, with an increase in perfusion to the ischaemic DU centre. If both fingertip and extensor DUs have a (potentially reversible) ischaemic aetiology, this has important treatment implications.