by Kimberly Allen, RN
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder involving the connective tissue in your body. Scleroderma affects all races and can be found worldwide . Approximately 1 out of every 1,000 people in the US have some form of scleroderma. It affects women four times more often than men and is more common in African Americans and certain Native American groups. It has also been known to run in families, however, the majority of the time it develops without any known family history. There are also certain environmental factors that may be related to the development of scleroderma including exposure to silica dust like in rock quaries and coal mines, certain industrial solvents like paint thinner and some chemotherapy medications.
Autoimmune diseases are those where the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue. In the case of scleroderma your body’s immune system starts to over produce collagen leading to inflammation and the development of scar tissue. Drs do not know what triggers the immune system to malfunction however, there is evidence that certain genes may be involved, however, there is also evidence that other factors like the environment also can trigger scleroderma.
Scleroderma has been classified into two groups, localized scleroderma and systemic scleroderma. Localized scleroderma affects only the skin, usually the skin on the face and hands. These skin changes can be either morphea patches or linear scleroderma. Morphea patches are localized areas of skin that become hardened and slightly discolored. Occasionally morphea scleroderma can result in multiple lesions on the skin. Linear scleroderma usually develops on a lower extremity. It usually appears as a thin strip of hardened skin that goes down the leg. Children with linear scleroderma can have impaired bone growth. Systemic scleroderma affects your blood vessels and organs as well as you skin. It is by far more serious as it usually progresses rapidly and organ involvement tens to occur early in the disease. Systemic scleroderma can cause scaring in most organs including the lungs, heart and kidneys as well as more extensive skin involvement.
The symptoms of sclerderma vary depending on the type of scleroderma you have and the extent of skin and organ involvement. In localized scleroderma affecting the skin, you may experience redness with swelling tenderness and pain as well as itching which leads to the skin tightening and becoming hard. People with scleroderma involving blood vessels usually develop symptoms related to Raynauds phenomenon. Symptoms related to organ involvement are related to the organ involved for example scleroderma of the lungs cuase shortness of
breath as well as pulmonary hypertension.
There is no known cure for scleroderma, nor are there any medications that can stop the over production of collagen. Occasionally, localized scleroderma will resove on it’s own, however there are a variety of medications your Dr may suggest to help manage your symptoms ad prevent complications including blood pressure medications that dialate your blood vessels to help prevent lung and kidney complications as well as medications that supress the immune system like the ones given to people that have had organ transplants. Many Drs also suggest physical therapy to improve strength and circulation as well as meditation and relaxation techniquesd to help relieve pain and fatigue.
Living with any chronic disease is challenging and can make you feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. It’s important to continue your activities of daily living the best that you can and learn to balance rest and activity to assure you get enough rest. Don’t try to isolate yourself from family and friends they can be a huge support for you.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.