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Know the basics

What is scleroderma?

Scleroderma is an umbrella term to describe a group of rare diseases that causes the skin and connective tissues to harden and tighten. Scleroderma symptoms are most obvious on the skin, but many people also experience damage to other structures, such as blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract. Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which structures are affected.

There are two main types of scleroderma:  localized scleroderma and systemic scleroderma.

  • The localized type affects a part of the body, most often only skin tissues. It does not harm major organs. In most cases, it goes away on its own, but in severe cases it can cause skin damage.
  • The systemic type affects the whole body, including the skin, tissues under it, blood vessels, and major organs.

How common is scleroderma?

Scleroderma affects women more often than men and most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of scleroderma?

Scleroderma’s signs and symptoms vary, depending on which parts of your body are involved:

  • Shiny, smooth looking skin that is caused by hardened and thickened tissues, most commonly on the hands and face.
  • Cold fingers or toes that turn red, white, or blue. This is called Raynaud’s phenomenon.
  • Ulcers or sores on fingertips.
  • Small red spots on the face and chest. These are opened blood vessels called telangiectasia.
  • Puffy or swollen or painful fingers and/or toes.
  • Painful or swollen joints.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Dry eyes or mouth (called Sjogren’s syndrome).
  • Swelling (edema) mostly on the hands and fingers.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Heartburn.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Weight 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 scleroderma?

The cause of scleroderma is still not yet known. Some scientists suggest that it might have to do with a malfunction of the autoimmune system, where the immune system attacks your tissues instead of harmful virus and bacteria.

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 scleroderma diagnosed?

Scleroderma is difficult to diagnose because it has many forms and can affect many parts of the body differently in each person.

Your doctor will check your physical symptoms for signs scleroderma of that affects the skin. To test your blood antibodies level produced by the immune system, a blood test is required. To check for any damage in other parts of the body, your doctor may also suggest breathing tests (pulmonary function tests), a CT scan of your lungs and an echocardiogram of your heart. Your doctor might also remove a small tissue sample (biopsy) of your affected skin to examine in the laboratory for abnormalities.

How is scleroderma treated?

There’s no treatment for scleroderma, but you can manage the symptoms. Medications are usually the first choice of treatment for scleroderma:

  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin). They can help with swelling and pain.
  • Steroids and other drugs to control your immune response. These can help with muscle, joint, or internal organ problems.
  • Drugs that boost blood flow to your fingers.
  • Blood pressure medication.
  • Drugs that open blood vessels in the lungs or prevent tissue from scarring.
  • Heartburn

Besides medications, your doctor might recommend other treatment to reduce symptoms:

  • Skin treatment, including light and laser therapy.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Occupational therapy.
  • If severe organ damage happens, organ transplantation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage scleroderma?

You can follow these steps to help manage your symptoms of scleroderma:

  • Stay active.Exercise is important to keep your body strong and healthy against many types of illness. Exercising improves blood circulation and relieves stiffness, as well as keeping your joints flexible.
  • Don’t smoke.Nicotine can promote hardening of blood vessels and lungs tissues. If you have difficulty quitting, ask your doctor for help.
  • Manage heartburn.Acid reflux from heartburn can damage your esophagus. Try to avoid foods that give you heartburn or gas. You should avoid eating too much or eating late at night. Adjust your sleeping position so that you head is higher than your chest to avoid reflux. If these tips don’t help, antacids may help relieve symptoms.
  • Protect yourself from the cold.

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.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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