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The Complete Guide to Scleroderma

Even though this rare disease is not contagious, it can be life-threatening and frightening for some.

Scleroderma affects about one in a thousand people in the US, or about 300,000.

Even though this rare disease is not contagious, it can be life-threatening and frightening for some. Even though this rare disease is not contagious, it can be life-threatening and frightening for some. Even though this rare disease is not contagious, it can be life-threatening and frightening for some.

What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a skin disease that is chronic and creates a hardening or tightening of the skin. The name of the disease is a combination of two Greek words, “sclero” which means hard, and “derma” meaning skin.

In some cases, scleroderma can affect only the skin, but in others, it harms other systems of the body such as the digestive system, blood vessels, and other internal organs.

Women typically are more prone to develop scleroderma than men, but the severity of the disease fluctuates from person to person, usually between the ages of 30-50. It is not contagious or associated with any cancers.

Types of Scleroderma

Two types of scleroderma are broken up into subtypes.

Localized scleroderma

Localized scleroderma is seen mainly on the skin and has two types.


This type is present on the skin in patches or streaks. The patches appear at first as red or purplish ovals and then develop a white center.


Streaks can show up on the face, legs, or arms and hard to the touch.

Systemized Scleroderma

Otherwise known as generalized scleroderma seeps into the rest of the body harming organs. There are two types:

Limited Scleroderma

Works slowly through the body and affects the face, hands, and feet, but causes damage to the intestines, esophagus, and lungs. Even though limited scleroderma is treatable, it eventually worsens causing heart and lung problems.

Another name that limited scleroderma goes by is CREST, which is an acronym for the symptoms it causes:

  • Calcinosis
  • Raynaud Phenomenon
  • Esophageal dysfunction
  • Sclerodactyly
  • Telangiectasia

Diffuse Scleroderma 

This type accelerates quickly on the body, with skin thickening on various areas like torso, legs, arms, hands, and feet. It also impacts lungs, kidneys, heart, and intestines.

What Are Scleroderma Symptoms?

Basic symptoms are tightening and hardening of the skin, but because scleroderma affects many parts of the body the symptoms are different for each case depending on which regions have scleroderma.

Other symptoms include:

Experiencing cold or numbness in fingers and toes. They also may turn blue or purple called Raynaud’s phenomenon, along with pain or stiffness. Sores may also appear on fingertips.

The digestive system may encounter problems as well; you may experience acid reflux, heartburn, or diarrhea.

Spots may show up on your chest or face called telangiectasias, which are blood vessels that have opened.

Are There Any Treatments for Scleroderma?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for scleroderma, but the symptoms are treatable.

Some of the available treatments are

  • A doctor may prescribe certain steroids to help with pain or organ problems.
  • Doses of ibuprofen or over the counter pain medications can help.
  • Medications that lower blood pressure or open blood vessels

Aside from drugs, both OTC and prescription, there are some other avenues you could consider.

  • Laser or light treatment
  • Exercising
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Stop smoking

These are not an exhaustive list of treatments so If you have scleroderma, talk to your doctor about your options for treatment.

What Causes Scleroderma?

Though classified as an autoimmune disease, the cause of scleroderma is still mostly unknown. An autoimmune disease is when your immune system attacks your body and identifies it as foreign. Common autoimmune diseases are diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Most medical experts agree that scleroderma is a result of an overproduction of collagen. Collagen is a protein made by the body that contributes to the health of the connective tissues.

Some people could be predisposed to developing scleroderma since it’s genetic, but not everyone who has the gene show symptoms.

There is ongoing research to uncover more about scleroderma.

How do I Know if I Have Scleroderma?

A rheumatologist can diagnose scleroderma by asking you questions about your symptoms. A rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases.

Before your appointment, gather the information you need such as a list of current medications and symptoms you are experiencing. Also, compile a list of questions for your doctor if you have any.

At your appointment, your doctor will use an array of methods to diagnose you with scleroderma accurately. He or she may examine the number of antibodies your body is producing, along with taking a piece of your skin for a biopsy. A breathing test may be required or a scan to observe your heart.

Though these tests may be overwhelming, it is important to remember that scleroderma affects many parts of the body and each person responds differently to the disease.  Scleroderma can be a challenge to diagnose, so even though all of the testings can seem excessive, doing so is the best way for your doctor to know for sure if you have scleroderma.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Scleroderma?

As previously mentioned, some types of scleroderma are easier to manage than others. Some types of scleroderma that involve the organs do the most damage, while other types are milder. However, a mild case of could evolve severely if not diagnosed.

Scleroderma is life-threatening in some people and requires more invasive intervention such as amputation or organ transplant.

Help for Scleroderma

Scleroderma can develop into a serious condition if not taken seriously. The effects can be lasting and debilitating when you do not understand how the disease works. If you believe you may have scleroderma, contact us today to schedule your appointment with a professional who can help.

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