Know the basics
What is connective tissue disease?
A connective tissue disease affects the parts of the body that connect the structures of the body together. Connective tissues are made up of two proteins: collagen and elastin. Collagen is a protein found in the tendons, ligaments, skin, cornea, cartilage, bone, and blood vessels. Elastin is a stretchy protein that resembles a rubber band and is the major component of ligaments and skin. When a patient has a connective tissue disease, the collagen and elastin are inflamed. The proteins and the body parts they connect are harmed.
How common is connective tissue disease?
Rheumatoid arthritis affects many more women than men. However, young children and the elderly can also develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Scleroderma affects women three times more often than men throughout life, occurring at a rate of 15 times greater for women during childbearing years.
Systemic lupus erythematosus lupus is nine times more common in women than men.
It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of connective tissue disease?
The common symptoms are is nonspecific fatigue. Depending on which connective tissue disease is present, and how active it is, a wide variety of symptoms may occur. These include fevers, muscle, joint pain, weakness, and many other symptoms.
- Tender, warm, swollen joints;
- Joint stiffness that is usually worse in the mornings and after inactivity;
- Fatigue, fever and weight loss.
- Nearly everyone who has scleroderma experiences a hardening and tightening of patches of skin.
- Fingers or toes. One of the earliest signs of scleroderma is an exaggerated response to cold temperatures or emotional distress, which can cause numbness, pain or color changes in the fingers or toes.
- Digestive system. Some people with scleroderma may also have problems absorbing nutrients if their intestinal muscles aren’t moving food properly through the intestines.
- Heart, lungs or kidneys. This condition can affect the function of the heart, lungs or kidneys to varying degrees.
Systemic lupus erythematosus lupus (SLE)
- Fatigue and fever;
- Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling;
- Butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose;
- Skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure (photosensitivity);
- Fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods (Raynaud’s phenomenon);
- Shortness of breath;
- Chest pain;
- Dry eyes;
- Headaches, confusion and memory loss.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
Know the causes
What causes connective tissue disease?
The specific causes of most connective tissue diseases are not known. However, there are genetic patterns that are considered to increase the risk for developing connective tissue diseases. It is likely that a combination of genetic risks and environmental factors are necessary for the development of connective tissue disease.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for connective tissue disease?
There are three risk factors that could increase your symptom:
- Connective tissue diseases that are strictly due to genetic inheritance.
- Other diseases of connective tissue cannot be regularly defined by selected gene abnormalities, such as systemic lupus erythematosus or scleroderma.
- These connective tissue diseases occur for unknown reasons but may have weaker genetic factors that predispose to their development. They are characterized as a group by the presence of spontaneous overactivity of the immune system that results in the production of extra antibodies into the circulation.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is connective tissue disease diagnosed?
The doctor can sometimes detect a particular connective tissue disease simply by the physical examination. Frequently, blood testing, X-ray examination, and other tests can help in making a diagnosis of connective tissue disease.
How is connective tissue disease treated?
- NSAIDs. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Alevecan) help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
- Steroids. Corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, reduce inflammation and pain and slow joint damage.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), Methotrexate (Trexall, Otrexup, Rasuvo), leflunomide (Arava), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and save the joints and other tissues from permanent damage.
The therapist will suggest new ways to do daily tasks, which will be easier on your joints.
If medications fail to prevent or slow joint damage, your doctor may consider surgery to repair damaged joints. Surgery may help restore your ability to use your joint. It can also reduce pain and correct deformities.
Some common complementary and alternative treatments that have shown promise for rheumatoid arthritis include fish oil, plant oils, Tai chi.
- Blood pressure medications that dilate blood vessels may help prevent lung and kidney problems and may help treat Raynaud’s disease.
- Drugs that suppress the immune system, such as those taken after organ transplants, may help reduce scleroderma symptoms.
- Medications such as omeprazole (Prilosec) can relieve symptoms of acid reflux.
- Prevent infections. Antibiotic ointment, cleaning, and protection from the cold may help prevent infection of fingertip ulcers caused by Raynaud’s disease. Regular influenza and pneumonia vaccinations can help protect lungs that have been damaged by scleroderma.
- Relieve pain. If over-the-counter pain relievers don’t help enough, you can ask your doctor to prescribe stronger medications.
Physical or occupational therapists can help you to:
- Manage pain;
- Improve your strength and mobility;
- Maintain independence with daily tasks.
Surgical options for scleroderma complications may include:
- Lung transplants.
Systemic lupus erythematosus lupus (SLE)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), may be used to treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus.
- Antimalarial drugs. Medications commonly used to treat malaria, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), also can help control lupus.
- Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids can counter the inflammation of lupus.
- Immunosuppressants. Drugs that suppress the immune system may be helpful in serious cases of lupus. Examples include azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate (CellCept), leflunomide (Arava) and methotrexate (Trexall).
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage connective tissue disease?
- Gentle exercise can help strengthen the muscles around your joints, and it can help fight fatigue you might feel.
- Apply heat or cold can help ease your pain and relax tense, painful muscles.
- Find ways to cope with pain by reducing stress in your life.
- Exercise. It keeps your body flexible, improves circulation and relieves stiffness.
- No smoking. Nicotine causes blood vessels to contract, making Raynaud’s disease worse. Smoking can also cause permanent narrowing of your blood vessels.
- Manage heartburn. Avoid foods that give you heartburn or gas. Also, avoid late-night meals. Elevate the head of your bed to keep stomach acid from backing up into your esophagus (reflux) as you sleep. Antacids may help relieve symptoms.
- Protect yourself from the cold. Wear warm mittens for protection anytime your hands are exposed to cold, even when you reach into a freezer.
Systemic lupus erythematosus lupus (SLE)
- Get adequate rest. People with lupus often experience persistent fatigue that’s different from normal tiredness and that isn’t necessarily relieved by rest.
- Wear protective clothing, such as a hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants and use sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 55 every time you go outside.
- Get regular exercise.
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 16, 2016 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019
Rheumatoid arthritis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/home/ovc-20197388. Accessed September 1, 2016.
Scleroderma. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/scleroderma/home/ovc-20206014. Accessed September 1, 2016.
Lupus. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/basics/definition/con-20019676. Accessed September 1, 2016.