Scleroderma is a 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 the environment also plays a role. Family members of patients with scleroderma have a mildly increased risk of developing scleroderma. However, many patients with scleroderma do not have family members with the condition.
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 look like other health conditions. Make sure to see your healthcare 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, age, and general health. Treatment may include:
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
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 problems with your movement. 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 healthcare 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 healthcare provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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