Arrhythmias are frequent in Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) and portend a bad prognosis, accounting alone for 6% of total deaths. Many of these patients die suddenly, thus prevention and intensified risk-stratification represent unmet medical needs. The major goal of this study was the definition of ECG indexes of poor prognosis.
We performed a prospective cohort study to define the role of 24h-ECG-Holter as an additional risk-stratification technique in the identification of SSc-patients at high risk of life-threatening arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death (SCD). One-hundred SSc-patients with symptoms and/or signs suggestive of cardiac involvement underwent 24h-ECG-Holter. The primary end-point was a composite of SCD or need for implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
Fifty-six patients (56%) had 24h-ECG-Holter abnormalities and 24(24%) presented frequent ventricular ectopic beats (VEBs). The number of VEBs correlated with high-sensitive cardiac troponin T (hs-cTnT) levels and inversely correlated with left-ventricular ejection fraction (LV-EF) on echocardiography. During a mean follow-up of 23.1±16.0 months, 5 patients died suddenly and two required ICD-implantation. The 7 patients who met the composite end-point had a higher number of VEBs, higher levels of hs-cTnT and NT-proBNP and lower LV-EF (p = 0.001 for all correlations). All these 7 patients had frequent VEBs, while LV-EF was not reduced in all and its range was wide. At ROC curve, VEBs>1190/24h showed 100% of sensitivity and 83% of specificity to predict the primary end-point (AUROC = 0.92,p<0.0001). Patients with VEBS>1190/24h had lower LV-EF and higher hs-cTnT levels and, at multivariate analysis, the presence of increased hs-cTnT and of right bundle branch block on ECG emerged as independent predictors of VEBs>1190/24h. None of demographic or disease-related characteristics emerged as predictors of poor outcome.
VEBS>1190/24h identify patients at high risk of life-threatening arrhythmic complications. Thus, 24h-ECG-Holter should be considered a useful additional risk-stratification test to select SSc-patients at high-risk of SCD, in whom an ICD-implantation could represent a potential life-saving intervention.