The Relationship between Autonomic Dysfunction of the Gastrointestinal Tract and Emotional Distress in Patients with Systemic Sclerosis

Dana Direnzo, James Russell, Clifton O. Bingham, Zsuzsanna McMahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background/Objectives We hypothesized that emotional distress in systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients with moderate to severe gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction is associated with dysautonomia. We sought to determine (1) the clinical characteristics associated with emotional distress in SSc, (2) the odds of having dysautonomia in those with emotional distress, and (3) whether GI dysautonomia, as measured by the Survey of Autonomic Symptoms (SAS), correlates with GI dysautonomia on the Composite Autonomic Symptom Score-31 (COMPASS-31). Methods Clinical and demographic features from our prospective cohort study were compared among SSc patients with and without GI-associated emotional distress (University of California at Los Angeles Scleroderma Clinical Trial Consortium Gastrointestinal Tract 2.0 well-being subscale >0.5 or ≤0.5) in cross-sectional analysis. Covariates/confounders independently associated with emotional distress were used to construct multivariable logistic regression models. The COMPASS-31 and SAS GI subdomains were compared with Spearman correlation. Results Forty-six patients with SSc were enrolled in the study. In univariate analyses, age (odds ratio [OR], 1.06; p = 0.026), severity of GI dysautonomia (COMPASS-31: OR, 1.41; p = 0.003), anti-centromere (A/B) antibodies (OR, 3.60; p = 0.044), and anti-PM-Scl (75/100) antibodies (OR, 0.15; p = 0.035) were associated with emotional distress. In the adjusted model, those with more severe GI dysautonomia remained more likely to have emotional distress (OR, 1.85; p = 0.026); those with anti-PM-Scl (75/100) antibodies were less likely to have emotional distress (OR, 0.03; p = 0.031). The SAS and COMPASS-31 GI subdomains moderately correlated (ρ = 0.68, p < 0.001). Conclusions In SSc, increased symptom burden related to GI dysautonomia is associated with emotional distress. Multidisciplinary approaches addressing both the physical and emotional needs of the SSc patient may be warranted to optimize patient care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-17
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Rheumatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • autonomic dysfunction
  • emotional distress
  • gastrointestinal dysfunction
  • patient-reported outcomes
  • systemic sclerosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology


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