Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease that affects the body’s connective tissue causing health problems and discomfort for the patients that suffer.
Although it mostly affects the skin, it can also have a negative impact on other parts of the body. Scleroderma can affect the blood vessels, muscles, heart, lungs, kidneys, and digestive system. In its most severe forms, scleroderma can actually be life-threatening.
This is why it’s so important to recognize the signs of scleroderma, and when recognized, seek treatment as soon as you can. With proper treatment, scleroderma can be quite manageable, especially when treatment begins early on.
What is Scleroderma?
Before you look for the signs of scleroderma, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the condition.
Scleroderma is a combination of conditions that are autoimmune, chronic, and rheumatic in nature. People with scleroderma experience hardening and tightening of their skin and connective tissue. Affecting more women than men, patients will usually notice the onset of symptoms between the ages of 30-50 years old.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for scleroderma, but many treatment options are available which can do a lot in improving symptoms.
It’s important to be aware that there are many different types of scleroderma. For some patients, the condition affects their skin only. For others, their internal organs, blood vessels, and even their digestive tract are affected. Because each person’s experience with scleroderma is different, so are the signs and symptoms they’ll experience. However, there are some common signs of scleroderma to keep an eye out for.
Changes in Skin
Nearly every person that experiences scleroderma will notice a tightening and hardening of certain patches of their skin. These patches vary in size and shape and location. Some patients might notice just a small portion of their skin becoming shiny and tight while others will see an entire limb affected.
The most common spots for scleroderma to occur are the face and hands. Ulcers or sores might appear on the fingertips and sometimes, small red spots will crop up on the chest or face. Your fingers and hands might develop a general swollen feeling that doesn’t seem to subside.
Signs of Scleroderma Occur on the Fingers and Toes
Another early indication that the condition is developing is when your toes and fingers respond more dramatically to cold temperatures. They might turn blue easily and feel numb and even painful. With scleroderma, the small blood vessels that are present in your digits contract more easily causing numbness and sensitivity to the cold.
Fingers can also lose some mobility because of the thickening of the skin. Sometimes calcium bumps will appear on the fingers near the joints.
Changes in Your Digestive System
Scleroderma can cause issues with the digestive system if it becomes affected. For example, if a patient’s esophagus becomes affected, there will be an increase in heartburn. The patient might also experience difficulty with swallowing. The intestines can cramp up frequently which causes constipation, diarrhea, bloating and cramps.
Patients with digestive systems that have been affected by scleroderma might also have trouble absorbing essential nutrients. This is due to weakened intestinal muscles that are now struggling to move food through because of tightening of the organs.
Your Heart Could Suffer
Scleroderma can cause scarring of the heart. This scarring can result in an irregular heartbeat, pericarditis, and even congestive heart failure if it goes untreated.
Dental Hygiene Difficulties
Signs of scleroderma might include tightening of the skin around the jaw. As it tightens, the overall mouth area will seem to shrink making proper dental hygiene very difficult. Some scleroderma patients experience difficulty in producing adequate saliva.
If your kidneys are producing higher levels of protein in your urine or if your blood pressure is higher than usual, these may be signs of developing scleroderma. Both of these side effects can lead to kidney failure if they’re severe enough and go without treatment.
While anyone can develop scleroderma, as mentioned above, it does occur among women more frequently than men. Other risk factors include:
Some people are more genetically predisposed to developing scleroderma than others. Certain ethnic groups such as Native Americans are more likely to suffer.
Scleroderma seems to run in families, so if you have a family member with the condition, there’s a higher chance that you’ll end up with the condition as well.
There’s some research that suggests that exposure to certain drugs, medications, or viruses make a person more likely to develop scleroderma. Regular exposure to harmful chemicals can also increase risk.
Immune System Issues
Since scleroderma is considered an autoimmune disease, many doctors believe that the condition begins when the immune system begins to attack itself. During the breakdown, the body’s connective tissues are compromised.
Many scleroderma patients also experience other autoimmune diseases at the same time.
If you’ve noticed some of the signs of scleroderma in yourself, we invite you to schedule an appointment with us to get checked out.
If it turns out you do have the condition, we’ll be here to guide you through your treatment options so you can lead a healthier, more comfortable life.
Learn more about our professional, expert staff and the services they provide to countless patients with scleroderma.
Then, give us a call or send us a message to schedule an appointment and we’ll get you in as soon as possible.
We look forward to serving you!