To address the hypothesis that very early patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) are a heterogeneous group with mild or early disease, we analyzed the extent of heterogeneity in clinical, epidemiological, and immunological characteristics of these patients.

Methods. We performed an analysis of very early SSc patients from the Zurich cohort, who fulfilled neither the 2013 American College of Rheumatology (ACR)/European League Against Rheumatism nor the 1980 ACR classification criteria, but had a clinical expert diagnosis of SSc with Raynaud phenomenon (RP) and additional features of SSc (puffy fingers, SSc-specific antibodies, SSc pattern on nailfold capillaroscopy, or any organ involvement characteristic for SSc). Disease duration was defined from first RP symptom.

Results. One hundred and two patients fulfilled the inclusion criteria and were analyzed. Their clinical presentation was heterogeneous with the large majority presenting with RP, antinuclear antibodies, and nailfold capillaroscopy changes, but with varying presentations of other features such as SSc-specific antibodies and early signs of organ involvement. Patients with very early, potentially progressive disease did not differ from patients with long-standing mild disease in terms of their clinical features at first presentation.

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