Dec 12, 2016

What is Scleroderma?


Have you ever experienced hardening or tightness in your skin? This could be a developing symptom of an autoimmune disorder called Scleroderma. Less than 500,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with this rare disease, which is why the symptoms and treatments are not well known.  

While research continues to reveal more understanding of Scleroderma, we wanted to keep you informed on its causes, symptoms, treatments, and more.

What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a chronic, autoimmune skin disease, which causes your body to produce too much collagen resulting in tight skin. In fact, the word Scleroderma literally means “hard skin.” As a result of your skin thickening, scars can form on specific organs within your body, including the lungs and kidneys. Your blood vessels may also begin to thicken, which could, in return, lead to high blood pressure and tissue damage. 

There are two main categories of Scleroderma:  

  • Localized – Localized limits the disease to only affecting certain parts of the body.
  • Systematic – While systematic can affect the entire body.

Who gets it?

Although it is still unclear why or how Scleroderma develops, it has been noted that it’s primarily associated with women. The disorder is commonly developed between the ages of 35 and 50 years old.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors include: 

  • Genetics – People who have certain gene variations appear to be more likely to develop Scleroderma. 
  • Environmental triggers – Research suggests that, in some people, scleroderma symptoms may be triggered by exposure to certain viruses, medications or drugs, or repeated exposure to certain substances or chemicals.
  • Immune system problems – Scleroderma is believed to be an autoimmune disease. This means that it occurs partly because the body’s immune system begins to attack the connective tissues.  

How do I know if I have it?  

There are many symptoms that you can monitor in order to have a clearer idea of if you have Scleroderma. The first symptom to look for is any change in your fingers. For example, if you are suddenly experiencing sensitivity to the cold or possible color changes in your fingers, then we encourage you to contact one of our trained physicians here at Carolina Arthritis. Color changes in your fingers caused by cold weather or stress can also be classified as Raynaud’s Phenomenon. This disorder affects your blood vessels in your fingers and toes and is typically found in people diagnosed with Scleroderma. 

Another symptom of this chronic skin disease is stiff and puffy hands. If you begin to experience your hands tightening up or showing arthritic signs, this could be a warning to seek professional help. Stiffness, achiness, and pain in your joints can also be an indication for medical assistance. Additional symptoms can include:

  • Muscle weakness. 
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Heartburn.
  • Weight loss.
  • And dryness in your eyes and mouth.

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Is it treatable? 

Unfortunately, Scleroderma is characterized as chronic – meaning that once diagnosed; it lasts a lifetime. Although there is still not a treatment for the disorder, there are methods for managing your symptoms. The first step is to find a physician to give you the care that you deserve. Our doctors at Carolina Arthritis have incredible knowledge of this skin disorder and are equipped with the tools and technology for your ultimate care.

Your doctor will help you manage your symptoms through anti-inflammatory, immune response, or specific blood pressure medications. They will also provide you with everyday life tips to prevent pain, such as exercise and physical therapy movements. 

We know that being diagnosed with a chronic disease might feel daunting. However, you are not stuck in those symptoms, and you are not alone in the process! Contact Carolina Arthritis for exceptional health care in the Wilmington area.