The vascular complications of scleroderma have previously been attributed to the progressive obliteration of small vessels. Our study was carried out to determine whether abnormalities of blood viscosity occur in this disease, thereby contributing to the ischaemic process. Blood viscosity was measured in 20 patients using a rotational viscometer. At a high rate of shear, blood hyperviscosity was found in 35% of the patients and at a low rate of shear, in 70%. In addition there was a significant increase in the plasma viscosity which implicates changes in plasma proteins (fibrinogen, immunoglobulins) as causing the hyperviscosity. Measurement of the hand blood flow by venous occlusion plethysmography showed reduced flow at 32°, 27°, and 20°C. A unique finding was a delayed recovery of the blood flow after cooling. These observations suggest that the increased resistance to blood flow in skin affected by scleroderma may be caused by an interaction between the occlusive vascular lesion and blood hyperviscosity. In addition, blood flow patterns and hyperviscosity could help distinguish scleroderma from primary Raynaud's disease.
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