Scleroderma, what it is, and how to treat it

Scleroderma is a rare skin and connective tissue condition and mainly comes from two words: sclero (hard) and derma (skin) or “hard skin.” It’s caused by the overproduction of collagen which causes hardness of the skin. Doctors do not know the main cause of this condition, but it’s commonly understood that the immune system has something to do with it.

It’s estimated that 2.5 million people have this disease. It’s mainly found in women between the ages of 30 to 50 who are four times more likely to develop this condition.

Early signs of scleroderma are discoloration of figures or toes to white and later blue because the blood vessels spasm. This could be painful or even make them feel numb. This is also known as Raynaud’s disease (Raynaud’s disease can happen outside of Scleroderma).

Two types of scleroderma

There are two main types of scleroderma:

1. Localized

The good news is that this type is not severe and can sometimes heal itself without the need of modern medicine.

It takes two forms:

MORPHEA

Thickened, red, oval shapes on the skin on the chest, back, or abdomen. These areas can be larger than a dollar bill. Typically, these areas are without hair and don’t produce sweat.

LINEARSCLERODERMA head

Usually a single thickened line along the skin. Can be on the arm, leg, or forehead.

2. systematic

The second type is systematic scleroderma and affects the skin and organs. This type is in two categories:

Limited

Most or all people with this develop symptoms known as CREST:

  • C: Calcinosis. Lumps or calcium can be found anywhere on the body.
  • R: Raynaud’s Phenomenon. Constriction of the blood vessels.
  • E: Esophageal dysmotility. Difficulty swallowing and heartburn.
  • S: Sclerodactyly. Thickening and tightening of the skin.
  • T: Telangiectasia. Red spots due to damaged blood vessels. Usually on the fingers, palms, face, lips, and tongue.

Diffuse

This is the worse of the condition and can happen quickly. Tightening in the skin happens and quickly spreads to other areas of the body. Longterm effects can be lung fibrosis, GI disease, renal crisis, or cardiac disease.

What scleroderma affects the most

Nearly everyone who has scleroderma develops hardening or tightening of the skin. It may look shiny because it’s so tight. This can happen on any part of the body. Movement may even be restricted.

The digestive system can be affected depending on where the scleroderma is most present. At the esophagus is affected, you could have heartburn. If it’s near the intestine, you could have cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.

If left untreated in the heart, lungs or kidneys, scleroderma could be life-threatening.

How to treat scleroderma

There is no medicine that treats scleroderma, but if detected early, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of spreading and becoming worse. This depends on type, severity, disease progression, and patient’s age.

The best things you can do are…

  • Don’t smoke. This constricts your blood vessels and increases the severity of the condition.
  • Wear warm clothing. Staying warm will keep your fingers and toes from becoming too cold.
  • Exercising. This increases your blood flow throughout the body.

Here are a few ways this condition is typically treated:

1. Immunosuppressives

This can either be applied topically or internally. There are many side effects, however, to being applied topically.

Internally, it inhibits immune activity so the skin can heal.

2. phototherapy

Applied in the early stages of the condition. Doctors commonly use UVB lights to penetrate the upper part of the skin. Usually combined with an outside agent.

3. Vitamin D Analogues

Has been known to inhibit fibroblasts and collagen synthesis. It also may regulate the immune system.


Arthritis Consultants of East Tennessee specializes in rheumatologic care, which is the practice of assessing joints, muscles, and bones for pain, swelling, stiffness, and deformity. Contact us or call 865-503-2001 today to find out how we can help you get your life back on track.

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