Scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease that is characterized by the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues (fibers that provide the framework and support for your body). Scleroderma can develop with anyone at any time, however the disease affects women more than men and most often occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.
Scleroderma is caused by overproduction and accumulation of collagen in body tissues. Collagen is a protein that makes up your body’s connective tissues. The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown; however, the body’s immune system seems to play a role. The immune system attacks the body and produces inflammation and the overproduction of collagen.
The symptoms of scleroderma vary depending on which organ systems are involved. Early symptoms are common in the general population and are not always associated with the disease making it difficult to diagnose. Prevalent signs and symptoms of scleroderma include:
- Raynaud’s disease. Occurs when your body has an exaggerated response to cold temperatures or emotional distress. Small blood vessels in the hands and feet are constricted causing numbness, pain or color changes in the fingers or toes.
- Gastroesophageal reflus disease (GERD). GERD is characterized by acid reflux and problems with absorbing nutrients.
- Skin changes. Swollen fingers and hands, thickened patches of skin (most commonly on the fingers), and tight skin around the hands, face or mouth can occur.
Unfortunately there is no known cure for scleroderma, but there are medications to help control the symptoms. Treatments include blood pressure medications to help prevent lung and kidney problems, and drugs that suppress the immune system.