Scleroderma is a condition most often affecting women in the 30-50 yrs age group, although it does affect men and other age groups as well. Scleroderma is a connective tissue disease that is a type of autoimmune disorder causing changes in skin, muscle, blood vessels and internal organs. This disorder attacks and destroys healthy tissue in the body.
What causes scleroderma is still a mystery; sufferers of scleroderma will experience a buildup of collagen in the skin and other organs and this is what leads to the symptoms of the disease. Little is known about the causes of this condition although it is believed that excessive exposure to silica dust and polyvinylchloride may play a part in some cases. Scleroderma may occur in tangent with other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus and polymyositis. When occurring with other conditions it is referred to as mixed connective disease.
Not everyone with scleroderma develops this degree of skin hardening. However, it is this symptom that has earned scleroderma the nickname of ‘the disease that turns people to stone’. source
Variations of this disease may affect only the skin of the hands and face, this is referred to as localized scleroderma. This form of scleroderma develops very slowly, causes few complications, and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Another, more serious variant of the disease, is called Systemic scleroderma, or sclerosis, and can affect large areas of the skin as well as other organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys. There are actually two main types of systemic scleroderma, limited disease (CREST syndrome), and diffuse disease.Treatment
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for Scleroderma. Doctors may prescribe medications to help alleviate complications caused by the symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids are often prescribed as well as NSAID”s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Immune suppressing drugs like cytoxan and methotrexate are also prescribed. These drugs only help alleviate pain and discomfort caused by the symptoms, but there is no cure for scleroderma.
Doctors may also prescribe drugs for digestive disorders such as heartburn and swallowing difficulty.ACE inhibitors are often prescribed to control blood pressure and kidney problems. Medications to treat Raynaud’s phenomenon are often prescribed to control complications as well as drugs to help with breathing difficulty and often light therapy for the skin is prescribed. Treatment may also include physical therapy.
Persons only affected with localized scleroderma have a better outlook than persons suffering from systemic scleroderma as the condition is localized to only a small area of the skin on the face and hands and rarely if ever spreads to internal organs. Often lung and breathing difficulties are the leading cause of death for persons suffering from systemic scleroderma. Scarring of the lungs, called pulmonary fibrosis, is the primary cause of the breathing problems that lead to death.
Other complications caused by systemic scleroderma are cancer, heart and kidney failure, pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), and malabsorption (difficulty absorbing nutrients from food). Symptoms of scleroderma may include:
Pertaining to the skin
- Fingers and toes turn blue and/or white in response to heat and cold
- Loss of hair
- Hardening of the skin
- Abnormal light or dark discoloration of the skin
- Thickening, stiffness, and tightness of the skin of the fingers, hands, and forearms
- Small white lumps just below the surface of the skin, these sometimes excrete a thick, white substance
- Ulcers on the fingers and toes
- Tight, mask-like skin of the face
MCP, PIP and DIP joints destruction in patient with Scleroderma.Image courtesy of RadsWiki
- Pertaining to the bones and musclesJoint pain
- Numbness and pain in the feet and toes
- Stiffness, pain, and swelling in the joints
- Wrist pain
Pertaining to breathing
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
Pertaining to the digestive system
- Bloating after meals
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Difficulty swallowing
- Esophageal reflux/heartburn
- Fecal incontinence
If you find that you are experiencing some of these symptoms regularly, it may be a good idea to talk to your physician about this and see if you are developing this condition. As stated earlier, there is no cure for this but early treatment may help alleviate the pain and discomfort from the symptoms sooner. For more information contact the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association of America.