Scleroderma – a chronic disease – which is not curable but can be managed with the help of exercise and diet plan. Basically, scleroderma is a disease which happens as a result of various skin disorders and the tightening and hardness of the connective tissues. The disease is progressive and stays for a long time. It depicts that the disease gets worse with the passage of time. So, there is a need for its early diagnosis and corrective treatment options.
This disease also comes under the category of autoimmune disease in which own immune system of the body starts reacting against its cells instead of protecting them.
As a result, the collagen starts to produce in more amount in the body which creates connective tissues. The scarring of tissue, fibrosis, and thickening of tissue happen in such a situation.
The disease is not transmittable but it can run in families. Usually, its patients don’t have any family history of scleroderma.
“In the United States, the disease affects between 75,000-100,000 individuals. Mostly, women between 30 to 50 years are its victims.”
What is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a skin disease that is classified as an autoimmune disease. The word ‘scleroderma’ is derived from two Greek words ‘sclero’ and ‘derma’ which means ‘hard’ and ‘skin’, respectively. As the disease is related to skin, its symptoms are the hardness of the skin. Though, its conditions differ from one individual to the other individual.
Causes of Scleroderma
Changes in the condition of the skin can happen because of scleroderma. Changes in skin of hands and fingers are some early symptoms of this disease. You may figure out a change in the form of stiffness, puffiness, and tightness. It can be because of emotional stress or sensitivity to cold. Also, you may experience swelling in your feet and hands when you wake up in the morning.
Some other symptoms may include;
- Thickness and tightness of the skin on fingers
- A narrowing of blood vessels which is recognized as Raynaud’s disease
- Calcium issue in tissues of the body
- Visible red spots on hands and face
- Issues happen because of esophagus which is linked to stomach & throat
Here, you need to know that symptoms may vary from one individual to the other in different ways. Also, they affect individuals differently in different parts of the body.
When To See A Doctor?
Whenever you see the onset of the symptoms or you have some irritating signs, then you have to visit a qualified and expert doctor for a detailed examination. An early diagnosis can help in better treatment.
Types of Scleroderma
The disease comes in different types. Basically, it is characterized into two types – systematic & localized. Then, the systematic type further characterized.
1. Localized Scleroderma
Mainly, localized scleroderma affects the skin. Further, it may also affect your bones and muscles. However, it does not affect the internal organs of our body. Further, it has 2 types – linear and morphea.
2. Systemic Scleroderma
This type of scleroderma affects the complete body. It includes both internal and blood organs which specifically include lungs, heart, esophagus, and kidneys. Also, circulation of blood is affected by it. It further contains 2 kinds:
3. Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis
Usually, the thickening of the skin affects the area of your hands. In addition to it, your internal organs can also be affected. Such patients may experience weight loss, issue in swallowing, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, and weakness.
4. Limited Cutaneous Systemic Sclerosis
It is not a severe kind of systemic scleroderma, but it has bad impacts on your lower arms, face, feet, legs, and hands. Also, it may create some issues with your digestive system, lungs, and blood vessels. You may also call it as CREST syndrome. Why? Its Abbreviation can tell you the reason!
R: Raynaud’s disease
E: Esophageal issues
S: Sclerodactyly which makes your skin thick
T: Telangiectasias (red spots on the skin)
Symptoms of Scleroderma
Different parts of your body can be affected because of its symptoms.
- Muscle weakness
- Problem in swallowing
- Swollen or painful joints
- Dryness in mouth
- Dry eyes
- Swelling or puffiness in fingers
- Sores or ulcers on fingertips
- Shortness of breath
- Red spots on the chest & face
- Weight loss
- One of the most common symptoms – thickness and hardness of the skin on face and hands
- Hardened or thickened skin that looks shiny and smooth. It’s most common on the hands and face
Early diagnosis is necessary as it helps in treating the problem. Scleroderma comes with some vague symptoms that it is not easy to diagnose the problem. Some tests and a detailed physical examination are done by the doctors to get an exact diagnosis. Following tests are helpful in the diagnosis:
- Skin biopsy
- Using a microscope to check the skin, fingernails, capillaries, and tiny blood vessels
- Blood tests to evaluate the levels of specific antibodies
Your doctor will check the reason for shortness of breath, calcium deposits, joint pain, GERD, and skin thickening. Also, the complications of your heart and lungs can be checked.
Scleroderma is not genetic and it may happen to anyone. Different factors can play their role in the onset of this disease. They may include:
- Environmental triggers
- Problems related to the immune system
Complications may happen because of this disease. However, these complications range from mild to severe. You need to know that they can affect;
- Fingertips – if your disease happens along with systemic scleroderma, then it can become severe by restricting your blood vessels. In this way, it damages the tissues of your fingertips and you may get skin sores. In such cases, the tissues of fingertips may die or they require more care and actual treatment.
- Lungs – When you have scleroderma, it may affect the functioning of your lungs. In this way, you experience difficulty in breathing and your tolerance level becomes low. High blood pressure may also happen because of the issues in arteries.
- Kidneys – When you get high blood pressure because of the disturbance with arteries, it may affect your kidneys. A renal crisis may occur because of instant kidney failure or elevated blood pressure.
- Teeth – Your mouth looks narrower and smaller than before because of the severe tightening of the skin on the facial area. In this way, you may feel difficulty in brushing your teeth. Dryness of mouth can also happen as it is seen that patients with scleroderma cannot produce enough amount of saliva. Dental decay may also happen as a result.
- Heart – The risks of abnormal heartbeats may increase because of the scarring of heart tissues. Also, this disease can increase the pressure of blood on the right side.
- Digestive System – The patient may experience difficulty in swallowing and heartburn because of the digestive issue which raises as a result of scleroderma. Bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps are some other signs.
No exact treatment is available for Scleroderma, but it can be managed by using accurate treatment methods. Your doctor will do your detailed conditions, check your symptoms, and do some tests to know which treatment will work for you. Following are some methods which can assist in this regard:
- Steroids and related drugs can assist in controlling the immune response. Such medicines can be helpful in internal organ issues, joints, and muscle pain.
- Medicines of heartburn
- Medicines for controlling blood pressure
- Drugs to increase blood flow towards fingers
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSAIDs, including aspirin and ibuprofen, to help with pain and swelling
- Drugs which help in opening blood vessels and managing tissue scarring
Some other things can also be helpful in this regard:
- Stress management techniques
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Skin treatment which may include laser therapy
- Strength training
- Organ transplantation in case of dire need
Overproduction of the collagen is one of the main reasons for this disease. Though no medicine is available until now which can cure this condition. Hence, some medicines can be utilized to control the symptoms of scleroderma and their prevention. For instance, your doctor can prescribe you medicines to:
- Dilate blood vessels – Medicines which assist in dilating the blood vessels can help in preventing kidney and lungs diseases.
- Reduce digestive issues – Oral medicines to reduce stomach acid can also be helpful in giving relief from heartburn. Medicines and antibiotics can assist in moving food through intestines and as a result the patient gets rid of constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.
- Suppress the immune system – Medicines to suppress the immune system can be taken to reduce the symptoms and signs of scleroderma.
- Relieve pain – If any of your organs are in pain because of this skin disease, then pain killers are prescribed to feel ease.
- Treat skin changes – Changes may happen in the skin condition when a person is suffering from scleroderma. Related medicines are prescribed to reduce and manage these skin changes.
- Prevent infections – Prevention of infections is necessary to manage your body condition. Influenza and related vaccinations can prevent the person from any kind of infections.
You may get therapies to get help with:
- Pain management
- Improvement in mobility & strength
- Managing daily tasks
Surgery is recommended by the doctors and other medical experts when the condition becomes severe. Some recommended surgical options include;
- Lung transplant – If your lungs are damaged because of scleroderma, then your doctor may recommend you to go for a lung transplant for better functioning of your body.
- Amputation – If the fingertip tissues are used to diet because of the severity of disease, then you may need to get amputation.
You should contact an experienced and skilled doctor when you observe symptoms of scleroderma. Don’t take medicines on your own. Consulting with your doctor is really necessary to get the best medications and management.