Calcium-channel blockers are the standard drugs to open the blood vessels, and may be used for pulmonary artery hypertension and Raynaud's phenomenon. Short-release or sustained-release nifedipine (Adalat, Procardia) is the gold standard. Other drugs used include diltiazem (Cardizem, Dilacor), and the newer dihydropyridine medications (felodipine, amlodipine, and isradipine). Side effects vary among different medications, and may include fluid buildup in the feet, constipation, fatigue, gingivitis, erectile dysfunction, flushing, and allergic symptoms. Certain calcium channel blockers should not be taken with grapefruit juice, as it appears to boost the effects of these drugs. [The medications listed below are also discussed under many of the sections covering treating complications of scleroderma.]
The most effective approach at this time for preventing kidney (renal) crises is to start aggressive blood pressure-lowering treatment before blood tests show kidney damage has occurred.
Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors. Many medications are available for controlling blood pressure, but ACE inhibitors appear to be the most effective for scleroderma patients, because of their protective actions in the kidney. These drugs are also used to treat patients with evidence of kidney damage, whether or not they have high blood pressure. ACE inhibitors include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), quinapril (Accupril), benazepril, and lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril). Side effects are uncommon, but may include an irritating cough, large drops in blood pressure, and allergic reactions.
Angiotensin II Receptor Antagonists. Angiotensin II receptor antagonists (losartan, candesartan cilexetil, and valsartan) have benefits similar to ACE inhibitors and may have fewer or less severe side effects, including coughing. They may also have positive effects on blood vessels. Small studies showing improvement in Raynaud's phenomenon warrant further research.
Nitrates relax smooth muscles and open arteries, and are therefore sometimes used for the short-term management of Raynaud's phenomenon. They are available in topical and oral (by mouth) forms. Side effects of nitrates include headaches, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, fast heartbeat, and sweating. Lying down with the legs elevated can relieve low blood pressure and dizziness. Alcohol, beta blockers, calcium-channel blockers, and certain antidepressants can significantly worsen these side effects. Withdrawal from nitrates should be gradual. Some severe reactions have occurred when people have stopped taking these drugs too quickly.
Prostacyclins (also called Prostaglandins)
Prostacyclins open blood vessels and also have anti-blood-clotting properties. One or all of these drugs is used to treat pulmonary artery hypertension and Raynaud's phenomenon. Several prostacyclins are being used for scleroderma, although none have been approved specifically for the condition. Promising prostacyclins or similar drugs include iloprost (Ventavis), alprostadil (prostaglandin E1), epoprostenol (Flolan), and treprostinil (Remodulin).
Endothelin Receptor Antagonists
Bosentan (Tracleer) is a drug taken by mouth. It is called an endothelin receptor antagonist. It controls endothelin, a powerful molecule that causes blood vessels to narrow. It improves blood flow and is becoming important for treating patients with scleroderma, especially for preventing finger ulcers and improving hand function. This drug is also a treatment option for pulmonary hypertension.
One major approach to scleroderma is to use treatments that suppress the immune system, and therefore reduce the activity of the harmful processes that lead to scleroderma. Such treatments are used effectively in other autoimmune diseases. Their effectiveness in scleroderma varies, depending on the location and severity of the disease process.
Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). Cyclophosphamide is the most important immunosuppressant currently used for scleroderma. This drug can be taken through a vein (intravenous) or by mouth. It blocks some of the destructive actions of scleroderma in the lungs. Intravenous cyclophosphamide can be life-saving for patients with pneumonia caused by interstitial lung disease. Side effects of this drug include hair loss, infection, and bleeding into the urinary tract. To date, no other immunosuppressive drugs have shown any significant benefits for scleroderma.
Other drugs used to suppress the immune system may be useful in specific cases. They include D-penicillamine (which may be useful for skin symptoms), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), corticosteroids, cyclosporine (Sandimmune, Neoral), and chlorambucil (Leukeran). All of these drugs have potentially severe side effects.
In small recent studies, imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) has shown potential in the treatment of scleroderma. This anticancer drug inhibits the pathway that leads to fibrosis. Several larger clinical trials are currently studying this drug's potential as an actual treatment for the disease, instead of treating just its symptoms.
Badesch DB, Abman SH, Simonneau G, Rubin LJ, McLaughlin VV. Medical therapy for pulmonary arterial hypertension: updated ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2007;131:1917-1928.
Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2006.
Henness S, Wigley FM. Current drug therapy for scleroderma and secondary Raynaud's phenomenon: evidence-based review. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2007;19:611-618.
Knobler RM, French LE, Kim Y, Bisaccia E, Graninger W, Nahavandi H, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of photopheresis in systemic sclerosis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;54:793-799.
Kreuter A, Hyun J, Stücker M, Sommer A, Altmeyer P, Gambichler T. A randomized controlled study of low-dose UVA1, medium-dose UVA1, and narrowband UVB phototherapy in the treatment of localized scleroderma. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;54:440-447.
Nash RA, McSweeney PA, Crofford LJ, et al. High-dose immunosuppressive therapy and autologous hematopoietic cell transplantation for severe systemic sclerosis: long-term follow-up of the US multicenter pilot study. Blood. 2007;110:1388-1396.
Nihtyanova SI, Denton CP. Current Approaches to the Management of Early Active Diffuse Scleroderma Skin Disease.Rheumatic Dis Clin North Am. 2008;34(1):34(1):161-79; viii
Ostojic P, Cerinic MM, Silver R, Highland K, Damjanov N. Interstitial lung disease in systemic sclerosis. Lung. 2007;185:211-220.
Rubin LJ. Treatment of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension Due to Scleroderma: Challenges for the Future.Rheumatic Dis Clin North Am. 2008;34(1):191-197; viii.
Schachna L, Medsger TA Jr., Dauber JH, Wigley FM, Braunstein NA, White B, et al. Lung transplantation in scleroderma compared with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension. Arthritis Rheum. 2006;54:3954-3961.
Shoenfeld Y, Katz U. IVIg therapy in autoimmunity and related disorders: our experience with a large cohort of patients. Autoimmunity. 2005 Mar;38(2):123-37.
Steen VD. Pregnancy in scleroderma. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2007;33:345-358.
Tashkin DP, Elashoff R, Clements PJ, et al. Cyclophosphamide versus placebo in scleroderma lung disease. N Engl J Med. 2006; 354(25):2655-66.
Thombs BD, Taillefer SS, Hudson M, Baron M. Depression in patients with systemic sclerosis: a systematic review of the evidence. Arthritis Rheum. 2007;57:1089-1097.
Tyndall A, Furst DE. Adult stem cell treatment of scleroderma. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2007;19:604-610.
Wigley FM. Scleroderma (Systemic Sclerosis). In: Goldman L, Ausiello D. Goldman: Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders, 2008. pp. 2032-2041.
© 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885