What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. It can affect the skin and internal organs, and lead to swelling, scarring, and hardening of the skin and connective tissues. Scleroderma is a chronic, progressive disorder that is difficult to diagnose and manage. It affects more women than men and usually appears between the ages of 25 and 55.

Symptoms of Scleroderma

Scleroderma can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including:

  • Tightening and hardening of the skin.
  • Pain and swelling in the joints.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and indigestion.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Areas of darkened, patchy skin.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (numbness or color change in the fingers or toes due to cold or stress).
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Reduced blood flow to extremities.
  • Irregular heartbeat.

Causes of Scleroderma

The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown, but it's believed to be triggered by an overactive immune system. This could be due to genetic factors, environmental toxins, and/or other autoimmune diseases. According to research, smokers are more likely to develop scleroderma than non-smokers.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Scleroderma

A doctor will typically diagnose scleroderma through a physical examination and review of medical history. They may also order blood and urine tests, skin biopsies, and/or imaging tests. Treatment for scleroderma depends on the individual and may involve medications to relieve symptoms, physical therapy to improve joint mobility, or surgery to repair damaged tissue. Some lifestyle modifications, such as quitting smoking and managing stress levels, may also be beneficial.