The treatment of scleroderma can vary significantly, depending on the type of the disease, its symptoms, and severity. Find out more about this condition, and its causes and symptoms, through this HealthHearty article.
Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune condition, where the skin and the connective tissues gradually harden or thicken. The condition is characterized by the development of scar tissues, both on the skin and the internal organs.
When it affects only the skin, tissues, and the muscles below the tissues, it is called localized scleroderma, which can be of two types – ‘localized morphea’ and ‘linear scleroderma’. The localized form of the condition does not affect the internal organs.
On the other hand, systemic scleroderma can spread throughout the body and affect the internal organs. There are several types of systemic scleroderma, of which the two most common forms are, limited systemic sclerosis and diffuse systemic sclerosis.
What causes this autoimmune condition is not known. The condition is usually found to be more common in women. Generally, it has been observed that this autoimmune condition runs in families, for which genes are thought to have an important role in the development of this disease.
But the specific genes associated with this condition have not been identified till now. Along with genes, environmental factors are also considered to play a role in the development of this disorder. Due to the combined effect of both genetic and environmental factors, the immune system starts attacking the tissues, which results in the formation of scar tissues.
It can manifest in several different symptoms, depending on the specific type of the disease. Morphea scleroderma causes the appearance of some reddish skin patches, which gradually thicken and become oval-shaped with an ivory-colored center and violet borders. Such patches are characterized by little or no hair growth. These may fade away within a few years, but can cause muscle weakness and the appearance of dark skin patches on the affected area.
On the other hand, the linear form of the disease can cause the appearance of a line or band of thickened skin, and skin discoloration. The limited systemic form mainly affects the skin of the hands, arms, and face, along with the internal organs. It can be distinguished by calcinosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, esophageal dysfunction, sclerodactyly, and telagniectasias. Occasionally, pulmonary arterial hypertension can also occur due to this condition.
Diffuse systemic sclerosis causes the thickening of a large area of the skin, and fibrosis of the internal organs, like the lungs, kidneys, esophagus, bowel, and the heart. Another type, known as scleroderma sine scleroderma affects the internal organs. However, it does not affect the skin. The symptoms of this condition can be similar to the symptoms of the diffuse or limited scleroderma.
In general, this autoimmune condition can produce all or a few of the following symptoms:
- Thickened and hardened skin patches
- Hair loss in the affected area
- Skin discoloration and formation of scars
- Appearance of lumps beneath the skin
- Ulceration, mainly on the toes, fingertips, and the joints
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Swelling of the hands and the feet
- Stiff and swollen fingers
- Joint and wrist pain
- Raynaud’s syndrome or phenomenon (pain and numbness in the extremities of the body on exposure to cold, or due to stress)
- Shortness of breath and wheezing (when the lungs are affected)
- Curling of the fingers
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Fecal incontinence
At present, there is no cure for this condition. The treatment of this condition is individual specific, and it aims at alleviating the symptoms and the complications associated with the condition. For example, physicians usually ask patients to avoid cold and keep the hands and extremities of the body warm, along with prescribing medications like amlodipine, diltiazem, nifedipine, felodipine for the treatment and management of Raynaud’s syndrome.
Skin thickening and irritation associated with this condition can be treated with medications, like colchicine, Lubriderm, Relaxin, and cyclosporine. As it is basically an autoimmune condition, immunosuppressants are often used for its treatment. Corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and drugs for relieving heartburn and irritation of the esophagus, are also used at times.
High blood pressure can be termed as one of the major complications of this disease, which can be treated with hypertension medications, such as ACE inhibitors, calcium antagonists, and anti-coagulant drugs. So, the treatment of scleroderma mainly depends on its signs and symptoms, the associated complications, as well as the severity of the condition. A proper evaluation to find out the specific type of the disease is of vital importance to prevent the serious complications associated with this autoimmune condition.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.