Scleroderma is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the skin and other organs. It’s characterized by skin thickening and tightening as well as inflammation and scarring, which can cause problems in the lungs, kidneys, heart, digestive tract, and other organs. Although there’s no cure for scleroderma, successful therapies are available.
At Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, LLC, board-certified rheumatologist Barbara Kage, MD, is well-versed in detecting and treating common and rare autoimmune diseases and connective tissue diseases such as scleroderma. In this article, we take a closer look at the different types of scleroderma and discuss our treatment approach.
What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune illness in which dense, thick fibrous tissue replaces healthy tissue. It is a rare chronic condition affecting roughly 75,000-100,000 people in the United States.
Under normal circumstances, your immune system aids in your body's defense against disease and infection. In patients with scleroderma, the immune system causes other cells to create too much collagen, a connective tissue protein. This excess collagen builds up in the skin and organs, causing thickness and hardness.
In addition to affecting the skin, scleroderma can affect internal organs and systems, including the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, kidneys, heart, blood vessels, muscles, and joints.
Types of scleroderma
There are two primary types of scleroderma.
Localized scleroderma is the most common form. It affects only a person's skin, generally in a few spots. It usually manifests as waxy patches or streaks on the skin, and this less severe version is known to go away or cease growing without therapy.
This kind affects many different regions of the body, as its name suggests. It can affect not just the skin, but also many interior organs, obstructing digestive and respiratory functions and leading to kidney failure. Systemic scleroderma can be fatal in some cases.
Symptoms of scleroderma
Because the condition can affect different organs and systems, you can have many different symptoms. If you’re diagnosed with scleroderma, you may experience:
- Hair loss
- Weight loss
- Breathing problems
- Swallowing problems
- Digestive discomfort
- Swollen hands and feet
- Red patches on the skin
- Joint contractures
- Joint discomfort and stiffness
- Cough that doesn’t go away
- Ulcerations on your fingers and toes
- Face skin that is tight and mask-like
In addition to these symptoms, Raynaud’s syndrome and Sjogren’s syndrome are common in patients with scleroderma.
The treatment approach for scleroderma is aimed at managing symptoms. Your specific treatment plan depends on the type of scleroderma you’re diagnosed with and your symptoms. Here are some of the ways we approach scleroderma.
Managing skin symptoms
Topical medicines are useful in managing localized scleroderma. Moisturizers soothe tough skin and prevent it from drying out. Nitrates, such as nitroglycerin, enhance blood flow so sores can heal.
Managing gastrointestinal symptoms
To manage gastrointestinal symptoms, your treatment plan may include various medications, including H2 receptor blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and antacids. These medications work in different ways. H2 receptor blockers block histamine in the stomach, while proton pump inhibitors prevent the secretion of stomach acid.
Managing joint pain
Anti-inflammatory medicines can help ease joint pain. This class of medications blocks certain inflammatory substances to decrease inflammation and reduce pain. Keeping your joints moving and avoiding smoking also help.
Scleroderma can affect many areas of life, so it's crucial to have supportive medical experts to help you best manage your symptoms. You’re in capable and compassionate hands when you choose Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, LLC. To schedule a visit for scleroderma treatment and for all of your rheumatology needs, call or book online.