Scleroderma also called as systemic sclerosis is a type of autoimmune disorder affecting the connective tissues of the body. The origin of the word “scleroderma” comes from Greek in which the word ‘sclero’ means hardening and ‘derma’ means skin. This disease is a long term (chronic) disorder that makes the skin hard. The intensity of sclerosis differs from one person to the other and the disease is not progressive in nature. It is a rare disorder that involves hardening of the skin and the fibers of the body.
Very often scleroderma is localized since it affects the skin leaving the other parts but in rare cases it will affect vital organs like heart, lungs and kidneys. This disorder is more common in women (age group of 30-50) than men. Unlike other skin diseases, scleroderma is not contagious but it reduces the self esteem of the person due to its ugly appearance.
Scleroderma is characterized by hardening of skin and connective tissues. It is visible as thick patches on the skin more concentrated on the areas of fingers, hands and face. The skin becomes swollen and tight making it difficult to move the fingers or hands.
Sometimes it involves constriction of blood vessels on the hands and feet causing pain, numbness and color changes and these symptoms are named as Raynaud’s phenomenon. This condition happens when the person becomes stressed due to emotion or exposed to cold weather for long duration. This disease can affect the esophagus area present near the stomach making it difficult to absorb the nutrients properly. It may also produce acid reflux producing frequent gas discharge from the stomach.
Localized scleroderma can be categorized into two types namely morphea and linear. In the morphea type of scleroderma it causes round shaped patches on the skin marked with purple border. Often it is seen only on one part of the body like face or hands but sometimes it can appear throughout the body.
Liner scleroderma is seen in children and is marked by the presence of streaks of hard skin on arms and legs but it affects only one side of the body. Systemic scleroderma is serious since it affects the internal organs like lungs, heart and even the blood vessels of the body. But in this case the symptoms are poor and are visible only if the disease has progressed. However systemic scleroderma is a very rare disorder.
The main cause of scleroderma is due to excess of collagen fiber. Collagen is a protein that is naturally produced by the tissues of the body but when it is produced in excess of quantity it accumulates in the body tissues causing hardness on the skin. It is believed to be triggered by autoimmune disorder in which the body’s own immune system will induce collagen production in large amounts.
Who are at risk?
People belonging to certain race have increased risk of getting affected with scleroderma. African Americans, Choctaw Americans living in Oklahoma are more prone to develop this disease than others.
Women are more likely to get scleroderma than men. Similarly people who are exposed to dust of silica, and those working in mines and quarries are more likely to develop hardening of skin. Certain type of drugs given during chemotherapy can cause skin thickening. The disease becomes serious and complicated if it affects the internal organs or blood vessels of the body.
Scleroderma can become complicated to treat if is severe. It can cause complications on the lungs lading to pulmonary fibrosis thus reducing the ability of breathing. It can cause circulatory complications when it affects the blood flow causing ulcers and sores on the fingers. In rare cases it will increase protein level in the body thus affecting the kidney function. The progressive disease can make the small sac that surrounds the heart to become swollen thus making the person prone to heart failure. It can affect the digestive tract causing digestive problems and can also affect the gums causing dental problems.
It is difficult to diagnose scleroderma in the initial stages. Testing for this disease depends on the organ it has affected. Your doctor may request for blood test, biopsy of the affected skin.
Pictures of Scleroderma :
Images, Pics, Pictures and Photos of Scleroderma
Treatment for scleroderma is difficult since there is no medicine available to stop the collagen production in excess. Often localized scleroderma does not require any treatment and will resolve within few years. Medications are prescribed only for reducing the intensity of symptoms.
For GERD and digestive tract issues suitable drugs are prescribed for controlling gastric problem. Drugs for managing blood pressure are given if the disease causes dilation of blood vessels. Medicines are prescribed for suppressing the immune system that can reduce the overproduction of collagen. Occupational therapy is given for improving the functional ability of fingers and hands that gets hardened.
In case of severe symptoms causing ulcers and sores particular area is amputated by surgery. By making small changes in your lifestyle you can prevent getting scleroderma.
Quit smoking since tobacco in any form can affect the blood vessels. Stay active by practicing regular exercises which helps in free blood flow. Eat balanced diet and avoid taking foods that induces heartburn or gas production.