Conditional recommendations rule in new SARD-associated interstitial lung disease guidelines


AT ACR 2023

– In the spring of 2024, the American College of Rheumatology is expected to release guidelines to help inform the screening, monitoring, and treatment of interstitial lung disease (ILD) in people with systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases (SARDs).

The guidelines, which were previewed during a session at the ACR’s annual meeting, will include 50 recommendations, 3 of which met criteria for a strong rating:

  • For people with SARDs at increased risk of developing ILD, the authors strongly recommend against screening with surgical lung biopsy.
  • For people with systemic sclerosis (SSc)-related ILD, the authors strongly recommend against glucocorticoids as a first-line ILD treatment.
  • For people with SSc-related ILD progression despite an initial ILD treatment, the authors strongly recommend against using long-term glucocorticoids.

Elana J. Bernstein, MD, MSc, a rheumatologist who directs the Columbia/New York-Presbyterian Scleroderma Center, and Sindhu R. Johnson, MD, a rheumatologist who directs the Toronto Scleroderma Program at the University of Toronto, provided a sneak peek of the recommendations to attendees before anticipated publication in Arthritis & Rheumatology and Arthritis Care & Research. For now, guideline summaries for screening and monitoring and treatment are currently available, and three manuscripts are under peer review: one about screening and monitoring, one about treatment, and one about the patient panel that participated in the effort.

Dr. Elana J. Bernstein, director of Columbia University's scleroderma program

Dr. Elana J. Bernstein

“ILD is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in people with SARDs,” said Dr. Bernstein, who is co-first author of the guidelines. “People with systemic sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, idiopathic inflammatory myopathies, mixed connective tissue disease, and Sjögren’s disease are at greatest risk of developing ILD.”

Pediatric patients with SARDs excluded

The guidelines’ population of interest was people 17 years of age and older who were diagnosed with SARDs with a high risk of ILD. Pediatric patients with SARDs were excluded from the endeavor, as were those with systemic lupus erythematosus, antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody–associated vasculitis, sarcoidosis, ankylosing spondylitis, undifferentiated connective tissue disease, interstitial pneumonia with autoimmune features, and those with unclassifiable ILD.

In the realm of screening, the guideline authors conditionally recommend two screening tests for patients considered at increased risk of ILD: pulmonary function tests and high-resolution chest CT (HRCT). Pulmonary function tests should include spirometry, lung volumes, and diffusion capacity. “Office spirometry alone is insufficient,” said Dr. Johnson, who served as lead author of the guidelines. And while a HRCT scan is recommended, “some patients may present to the emergency room with acute onset shortness of breath, and they may receive a CT angiogram to screen for pulmonary embolism,” she said. “It’s important to note that CT angiograms are performed in incomplete inspiration to maximize pulmonary artery enhancement. This may produce atelectasis that may obscure or mimic ILD. As a result, CTA studies are often inadequate to screen for ILD.”

Once a patient is diagnosed with ILD, three tests are recommended for monitoring: pulmonary function testing (every 3-6 months the first year in patients with IIM and SSc, then less frequently once stable, and every 3-12 months in the first year in patients with RA, SjD, and MCTD, then less frequently once stable); ambulatory desaturation testing every 3-12 months; and HRCT as needed. Dr. Johnson noted that while that the screening of ILD lies within the realm of rheumatologists, “once a patient is diagnosed, we are encouraged to comanage these patients with pulmonologists,” she said. “Ambulatory desaturation testing is not an infrequent test in the hands of pulmonologists. This is where co-management can be helpful.” She characterized a 6-minute walk test with continuous oximetry as “insufficient and is not synonymous with ambulatory desaturation testing. Ambulatory desaturation testing includes up titration of oxygen if a patient desaturates.”

The guidelines conditionally recommend against using chest radiography, 6-minute walk test distance, ambulatory desaturation testing, and bronchoscopy for ILD screening, and there is a strong recommendation against surgical lung biopsy. “However, there are unique circumstances where these tests may be considered,” Dr. Johnson said. “For example, ambulatory desaturation testing may be helpful if a patient is unable to perform a pulmonary function test. Bronchoscopy may be used to rule out infection, sarcoidosis, lymphoma, or alveolar hemorrhage, and surgical lung biopsy may be considered if you’re trying to rule out a malignancy.”

Similarly, several tests are conditionally recommended against for the monitoring of ILD, including chest radiography, the 6-minute walk test distance, and bronchoscopy. “But there are unique circumstances where they may be considered,” she said. “The 6-minute walk test may be used if a patient is unable to perform a pulmonary function test or if they’re being assessed for lung transplantation. Bronchoscopy may be used to rule out infection or alveolar hemorrhage.”


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