Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Gastrointestinal symptoms and motility disorders in patients with systemic scleroderma

Agostino Di Ciaula1, Michele Covelli2, Massimo Berardino3, David QH Wang4, Giovanni Lapadula2, Giuseppe Palasciano3 and Piero Portincasa3*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Internal Medicine, Hospital of Bisceglie, Bari, Italy

2 Department of Internal and Public Medicine (DIMIMP) University Medical School of Bari, Section of Rheumatology, Bari, Italy

3 Department of Internal and Public Medicine (DIMIMP) University Medical School of Bari, Section of Internal Medicine, Bari, Italy

4 Department of Medicine, Liver Center and Gastroenterology Division, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Digestive Diseases Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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BMC Gastroenterology 2008, 8:7  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-8-7

Published: 27 February 2008



Studies on gastrointestinal symptoms, dysfunctions, and neurological disorders in systemic scleroderma are lacking so far.


Thirty-eight scleroderma patients (34 limited, 4 diffuse), 60 healthy controls and 68 dyspeptic controls were scored for upper and lower gastrointestinal symptoms (dyspepsia, bowel habits), gastric and gallbladder emptying to liquid meal (functional ultrasonography) and small bowel transit (H2-breath test). Autonomic nerve function was assessed by cardiovascular tests.


The score for dyspepsia (mainly gastric fullness) was greater in scleroderma patients than healthy controls, but lower than dyspeptic controls who had multiple symptoms, instead. Scleroderma patients with dyspepsia had a longer disease duration. Fasting antral area and postprandial antral dilatation were smaller in scleroderma patients than dyspeptic and healthy controls. Gastric emptying was delayed in both scleroderma patients (particularly in those with abnormal dyspeptic score) and dyspeptic controls, who also showed a larger residual area. Despite gallbladder fasting and postprandial volumes were comparable across the three groups, gallbladder refilling appeared delayed in dyspeptic controls and mainly dependent on delayed gastric emptying in scleroderma. Small intestinal transit was also delayed in 74% of scleroderma and 66% of dyspeptic controls. Bowel habits were similar among the three groups. Autonomic neuropathy was not associated with dyspepsia, gastric and gallbladder motility and small intestinal transit.


In scleroderma patients dyspepsia (mainly gastric fullness), restricted distension of the gastric antrum and diffuse gastrointestinal dysmotility are frequent features. These defects are independent from the occurrence of autonomic neuropathy.