Scleroderma is an ongoing (chronic) disease that causes abnormal growth of connective tissue. It can affect the joints, skin, and internal organs. It is degenerative and gets worse over time. The disease can be in one area of the body. This is known as localized scleroderma. Or it may affect the whole body. This is known as systemic sclerosis. Scleroderma is more common in women.
Scleroderma is thought to be an autoimmune disease. This means the symptoms are caused by the body attacking its own healthy tissues. Genes play a role in the disease, but it is not passed on from parents to children. Some environmental factors may also play a role.
Scleroderma can lead to scarring of the skin, joints, and internal organs. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person, and may include:
The symptoms of scleroderma can be like other health conditions. Make sure to see your health care provider for a diagnosis.
The process starts with a medical history and a physical exam. Diagnosis is based on the changes in the skin and internal organs. An antibody test may help show the type of scleroderma. Tests may also be done, such as:
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. Treatment may include:
With localized scleroderma, some symptoms may get better over time. However, damage to skin and other organs may be permanent. With systemic sclerosis, symptoms can over time lead to damage to the skin and cause thickened, tight skin. This can change your appearance. And it can cause movement problems. It can also cause severe kidney, lung, digestive, or heart problems. In some cases, these organ problems can lead to death.
Systemic scleroderma is a long-term condition. It is important that you learn ways to best manage your symptoms. Learn about the disease and work with health care providers who have experience with scleroderma. Because scleroderma can affect so many systems of the body, you may need to have many specialists on your health team. Physical and occupational therapists may help you with managing your activities of daily living. Make sure that you and other team members are in regular touch with each other. If you are not able to manage your care, pick a trusted person to oversee your care. Make sure to address your emotional well-being, too. Do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your health care provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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