Pronounced “skleer-oh-DUR-muh”, it is a disease that involves the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues – the fibers that provide the framework and support for your body.
June is Scleroderma awareness month. The entire month has been dedicated to this disease because so few people know about it, but yet, there is an increasing number of people being diagnosed with the disease. And, since awareness of the disease is low, many researchers do not always receive the resources they need to better understand the cause, symptoms and find a cure.
Scleroderma affects women more often than men and most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. While there is no cure for this disease, a variety of treatments can ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
What are the symptoms of Scleroderma?
Scleroderma signs and symptoms vary, depending on which parts of your body are involved:
Skin. Nearly everyone who has scleroderma experiences a hardening and tightening of patches of skin. These patches may be shaped like ovals or straight lines, or cover wide areas of the trunk and limbs. The number, location and size of the patches vary.
Fingers or toes. One of the earliest signs of scleroderma is an exaggerated response to cold temperatures or emotional distress, which can cause numbness, pain or color changes in the fingers or toes.
Digestive system. In addition to acid reflux, which can damage the section of esophagus nearest the stomach, some people with this disease may also have problems absorbing nutrients if their intestinal muscles aren’t moving food properly through the intestines.
Heart, lungs or kidneys. The disease can affect the function of the heart, lungs or kidneys to varying degrees. These problems, if left untreated, can become life-threatening.
What causes this disease?
Scleroderma results from an overproduction and accumulation of collagen in body tissues. Collagen is a fibrous type of protein that makes up your body’s connective tissues, including your skin. (Mayo Clinic, 2017)
Doctors aren’t certain what prompts this abnormal collagen production, but the body’s immune system appears to play a role. In some genetically susceptible people, symptoms may be triggered by exposure to certain types of pesticides, epoxy resins or solvents.
What are the treatment options?
In some cases, the skin problems associated with scleroderma fade away on their own in three to five years. The type of scleroderma that affects internal organs can worsen over time and require a variety of medications to help control symptoms and prevent complications.
If you have more questions or concerns about Scleroderma, you should consult your doctor.