What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma, also called systemic sclerosis, is a chronic, degenerative disease that affects the joints, skin, and internal organs. Scleroderma is also associated with blood vessel abnormalities.
Scleroderma is considered to be a multifactorial condition. Multifactorial inheritance means that "many factors" are involved in causing a health problem. The factors are usually both genetic and environmental, where a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to unknown environmental factors, produce the trait or condition. Often one gender (either males or females) is affected more frequently than the other in multifactorial traits.
What are the symptoms of scleroderma?
Scleroderma can lead to scarring of the skin, joints, and other internal organs. The following are the most common symptoms of scleroderma. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
thickening and swelling of the tips of the fingers
pale and tingly fingers that may become numb when exposed to cold or when emotionally upset (called Raynaud's phenomenon)
taut, shiny, darker skin on large areas such as the face, that may hinder movement
appearance of spider veins
calcium bumps on the fingers or other bony areas
grating noise as inflamed tissues move
frozen (immobile) fingers, wrists, or elbows due to scarring of the skin
sores on fingertips and knuckles
scarring of the esophagus, leading to heartburn and difficulty swallowing
scarring of the lungs, leading to shortness of breath
heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms
The symptoms of scleroderma may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
How is scleroderma diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, a diagnosis of scleroderma is usually based on the changes in the skin and internal organs. An antibody test may help distinguish the type of scleroderma present.
Treatment for scleroderma:
Specific treatment for scleroderma will be determined by your physician based on:
your age, overall health, and medical history
extent of the condition
your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, and therapies
expectation for the course of the disease
your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroids (to relieve pain)
penicillamine (to slow the skin thickening process and delay damage to internal organs)
treating specific symptoms, such as heartburn and Raynaud's phenomenon
physical therapy and exercise (to maintain muscle strength)