Scleroderma is Greek term meaning "hard skin," but it is not just a skin disease. It is a chronic, degenerative disorder that leads to vascular deterioration, tissue loss, and the overproduction of collagen in the body's connective tissue.
Scleroderma is most serious when it affects internal organs, causing severe damage and serious complications for the body's digestive, respiratory, circulatory and immune systems. It is not contagious, cancerous, or inherited. An estimated 300,000 Americans are affected with scleroderma, with women 4 times more likely to develop the disease than men. The exact cause is unknown.
There are two main types of Scleroderma:
- Systemic, which can affect the skin, blood vessels, and internal organs,
- Localized (such as Morphea and Linear) which affect only the skin.
Scleroderma symptoms include one or more of the following:
- Raynaud's Phenomenon (abnormal sensitivity to cold in the extremities).
- Swelling of the hands and feet.
- Pain and stiffness of the joints.
- Thickening of the skin.
- Joint contractures.
- Digestive system and gastrointestinal tract problems.
- Sjogren's Syndrome (dry mucus membranes).
- Oral, facial and dental problems.
- Kidney, heart, and lung involvement.
- Non-specific symptoms such as extreme fatigue, generalized weakness, weight loss, and vague aching of muscles, joints and bones.
Rheumatologists specialize in pain and inflammation of muscles, joints or soft tissue. They are most likely to be familiar with many different signs of scleroderma so that a diagnosis can be made. Dermatologists specialize in skin and can also perform tests that can confirm a diagnosis can be made.
Scleroderma can be diagnosed through physical examination and blood tests.