Scleroderma (skleer-oh-DUR-muh) is a group of rare diseases that involve the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues — the fibers that provide the framework and support for your body.
In some people, scleroderma affects only the skin. But in many people, scleroderma also harms structures beyond the skin — such as blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract. Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which structures are affected.
Scleroderma affects women more often than men and most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. While there is no cure for scleroderma, a variety of treatments can ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
Scleroderma is a progressive disorder characterized by thickening and tightening of the skin — especially on the arms, face and hands — which results in loss of flexibility. ...
Scleroderma's signs and symptoms vary, depending on which parts of your body are involved:
Scleroderma results from an overproduction and accumulation of collagen in body tissues. Collagen is a fibrous type of protein that makes up your body's connective tissues, including your skin.
Although doctors aren't sure what prompts this abnormal collagen production, the body's immune system appears to play a role. For unknown reasons, the immune system turns against the body, producing inflammation and the overproduction of collagen.
Scleroderma occurs much more often in women than it does in men. Choctaw Native Americans and African-Americans are more likely than Americans of European descent to develop the type of scleroderma that affects internal organs.
Scleroderma complications range from mild to severe and can affect your:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first bring your symptoms to the attention of your family doctor, who may refer you to a rheumatologist — a doctor specializing in the treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bone. Because scleroderma can affect many organ systems, you may need to see a variety of medical specialists.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Because scleroderma can take so many forms and affect so many different areas of the body, it can be difficult to diagnose.
After a thorough physical exam, your doctor may suggest blood tests to check for elevated blood levels of certain antibodies produced by the immune system. He or she may remove a small tissue sample (biopsy) of your affected skin so that it can be examined in the laboratory for abnormalities.
You may also need breathing tests (pulmonary function tests), a CT scan of your lungs and an echocardiogram of your heart.
Treatments and drugs
In some cases, the skin problems associated with scleroderma fade away on their own in three to five years. The type of scleroderma that affects internal organs usually worsens with time.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can take a number of steps to help manage your symptoms of scleroderma:
Meditation and relaxation techniques can help you cope with the frustrations of scleroderma, and help relieve pain and fatigue.
Coping and support
As is true with other chronic diseases, living with scleroderma can place you on a roller coaster of emotions. Here are some suggestions to help you even out the ups and downs:
The prognosis for scleroderma has improved dramatically over the past 30 years as the ability to detect and treat many of the problems of scleroderma has improved. But if scleroderma makes it difficult for you to do things you enjoy, ask your doctor about ways to get around the obstacles.
Keep in mind that your physical health can have a direct impact on your mental health. Denial, anger and frustration are common with chronic illnesses.
At times, you may need additional tools to deal with your emotions. Professionals, such as therapists or behavior psychologists, may be able to help you put things in perspective. They can also help you develop coping skills, including relaxation techniques.
Joining a support group, where you can share experiences and feelings with other people, is often a good approach. Ask your doctor what support groups are available in your community.
Last Updated: 2013-06-14
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