Scleroderma is a rare condition and one that scientists don’t fully understand. It has two forms: localized scleroderma and systemic sclerosis.
The specialists at Rheumatology Solutions offer treatment for systemic sclerosis, and though there is no cure, treatment can slow the progression of the disease and help improve your quality of life. It’s an autoimmune disorder with a long history, and if you have systemic sclerosis, you need expert care.
Systemic sclerosis basics
Scleroderma is a group of diseases that can cause your skin, blood vessels, internal organs, and digestive tract to tighten and harden. The symptoms and parts of the body affected vary from person-to-person. If only your skin is involved, it’s called morphea.
Systemic sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder and was first described in 1753. Researchers don’t know why some people develop it, but genetics likely play a role. Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain viruses or medications, could be implicated, and having another autoimmune disorder could raise your risk of developing systemic sclerosis.
Parts of the body affected
Most people who have scleroderma have skin symptoms. But, other parts of your body could be involved as well, including:
- Digestive system
The fact that so many different parts of your body can be involved—but also may not be—is one of the reasons doctors may have difficulty in diagnosing systemic sclerosis. At one time, the condition was called CREST syndrome, which stood for calcinosis cutis, Raynaud syndrome, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly, telangiectasias, which are all separate conditions that people with scleroderma may develop.
Less well-known symptoms
Some of the symptoms of systemic sclerosis, such as skin thickening on your fingers, are common. But, others, such small calcium deposits under your skin or red spots on your hands and face, are less common.
Other issues that may not seem immediately connected to scleroderma include heartburn, problems swallowing, diarrhea, and constipation, which are all possible when the disease affects your digestive tract.
When your lungs or heart are involved, you may experience dizziness, shortness of breath, or a lower tolerance for exercise. It can cause a condition called pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure between your heart and lungs, or an irregular heartbeat.
Because systemic sclerosis can affect the connective tissues in your joints, you may develop mild arthritis, or the joints of your fingers, wrists, or elbows may contract.
Because systemic sclerosis can affect the function of vital organs like your heart and lungs, it can be a scary diagnosis. However, treatments to slow the progression of the disease are available, and we closely monitor your symptoms for changes that could indicate you need more aggressive treatment.
Generally, we treat the specific symptoms you’re experiencing. For example, if your connective tissues are involved, we may recommend corticosteroid injections. Several medications have been identified that may be used to treat lung symptoms.
If you’ve been diagnosed with systemic sclerosis, you have questions about the disease, or you suspect you may have it, schedule an appointment at Rheumatology Solutions. Our doctors have deep expertise in treating this rare condition and are always happy to discuss your situation and make treatment suggestions.