Scleroderma disease

Scleroderma is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the body by hardening connective tissue. Chronic means that it lasts a lifetime. An autoimmune disease is one in which the body’s immune system attacks itself. When an immune system is working normally, it fights off foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria; an autoimmune system attacks the body’s tissues, assuming them to be foreign invaders. Needless to say, this is an issue. Connective tissue is in nearly all parts of the body, adding strength to organs and such. So, a lifetime-long disease in which the body attacks its own strengthening materials? What we have here is a problem.

We have already established that scleroderma is a disease in which the body attacks its own connective tissue, but how exactly does it work? Connective tissue is made of proteins, collagen among them. Collagen is present in the skin, and this is the main area that scleroderma affects. Scleroderma literally means “hard skin.” When the body thinks it has an injury on the skin, cells will produce collagen, but they don’t stop when they should, and there becomes an overabundance of collagen. Too much collagen in the tissues causes the body’s organs to not function normally.

Scleroderma is present on the body in one of two major forms. The first, limited systemic sclerosis/scleroderma, mainly affects the hands, arms, and face. Pulmonary arterial hypertension may be a problem for some with this type of scleroderma. The second type, diffuse systemic sclerosis/scleroderma, progresses rapidly and affects larger areas of the skin and one or more internal organs, typically the kidneys, blood vessels, esophagus, heart, and/or lungs.

The severity of scleroderma, like most diseases, will differ from person to person. It can present itself as a very mild disease that is just annoying, or it can cause serious medical problems and even become life-threatening. Many people may see an improvement of the disease or go through a stage of remission.

The symptoms vary and depend on the type of scleroderma and whether it affects the body internally and externally or just externally. On the skin, there are local or wide spread signs of inflammation (redness, swelling, tenderness, itching, and pain); inflammation can lead to skin tightness or hardening. The fingers, feet, face, and neck are the most commonly affected areas of the skin. Decreased range of motion on these areas is often an issue. Other symptoms depend on the organ affected: scleroderma affecting the esophagus may lead to indigestion; if the blood vessels are affected, spasms can occur; kidney damage may be evident; scleroderma affecting the lungs may cause scarring and difficulty breathing; scleroderma affecting the colon can cause constipation, cramping, and diarrhea.

There is no known cause of scleroderma. However, it is a very rare disease. It is most commonly seen in those aged 35-50, but children and older adults can still get it. Scleroderma is not hereditary, but autoimmune diseases tend to be. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help an individual deal with scleroderma; there is no cure. Treatments are based off the organ affected by the scleroderma.

Blood pressure. If blood pressure is raised due to scleroderma, medication will be used.

Skin itching. Lotions can relieve itching of the skin.

Cold hands. Due to the blood vessel problems, the hands may be lacking circulation, causing them to be cold. Warming the hands and taking medication that increase blood flow may be beneficial.

Esophageal irritation. Indigestion (heartburn) can be relieved by taking antacid medications. Lying slightly elevated in bed can reduce the back-flow of acid into the esophagus.

Constipation, cramping, and diarrhea. If bacteria are the cause, an antibiotic can be taken to reduce the symptoms. Increasing fluid intake and fiber intake are both beneficial. Medications can also be taken to improve the functioning of the bowel.

Other medications. There are medications available to restrain an overactive immune system.

Last updated on Aug 8th, 2010 and filed under Musculoskeletal Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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