What is scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a connective tissue disease characterized by abnormal production of collagen, a fiber-like protein. Collagen is a necessary component of connective tissue, but too much collagen overwhelms the tissues, causing them to harden and tighten, resulting in inflammation, damage and dysfunction of skin, bones, muscles, and other body organs. Scleroderma is thought to be caused by an abnormal immune system response (Source: PubMedHealth).

The symptoms of scleroderma usually develop slowly, possibly over weeks or several months, although certain forms may appear suddenly. It most commonly affects the skin, causing it to tighten and harden. It can also cause pain in the musculoskeletal system. Heart, lung, kidney, circulatory and gastrointestinal systems can be affected, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Left untreated, scleroderma results in gradual damage and eventual organ failure.

The most common treatments for scleroderma are medications that are designed to increase circulation to the body’s organs and suppress the immune system’s response. Supportive therapies include pain medications and physical therapy.

Scleroderma may take several forms and may be present with features of other connective tissue diseases. Among ethnic groups, the highest prevalence of scleroderma is found in Choctaw Native Americans who are in Oklahoma. They are 20 times more likely to develop scleroderma than other ethnic groups. Scleroderma is also more common in African American populations than European Americans. Scleroderma is most commonly developed between the ages of 30 and 50 (Source: PubMedHealth).

Scleroderma may cause serious symptoms.Seek immediate medical care (call 911)if you experience the inability to swallow, eat or drink; difficulty breathing; or absent pulses in the hands or feet. Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for scleroderma but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.


What are the symptoms of scleroderma?

The abnormally high amount of collagen within tissues results in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can affect the skin, muscles, bones, lungs, digestive tract, and other parts of the body. The symptoms vary in intensity among individuals.... Read more about sclerodermasymptoms


What causes scleroderma?

The exact cause for scleroderma is not known. It is thought to be the result of an abnormal immune response that overproduces collagen, a protein needed for connective tissue growth. Too much collagen in the connective tissue causes this fiber-like substance to overwhelm the tissues, resulting in damage and dysfunction of skin, bones, muscles, and other body organs. Some environmental factors, such as viral infections or exposure to toxins, may act as triggers, but they do not cause the condition.... Read more about sclerodermacauses


How is scleroderma treated?

Treatment for scleroderma begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine whether you have scleroderma, you will be asked questions about your symptoms and when they occur, and you may be asked to undergo diagnostic testing. Medications to relieve pain and inflammation can be effective in controlling the symptoms of scleroderma. Your health care professional can develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs. It is important to follow your treatment plan for scleroderma precisely to help minimize your symptoms and decrease the chance of symptoms recurring over time.... Read more about sclerodermatreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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