What is Scleroderma?
Are you aware of the existence of a rare skin condition that not only affects the skin but other organs as well? Scleroderma, a lesser-known disease compared to more common skin conditions like acne or psoriasis, affects more women than men and has been reported to affect more than 2 million people worldwide.
Imagine waking up one day and noticing your skin and connective tissues have become thick and hard, making it difficult to move or even swallow. This is what people with scleroderma experience, as their immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, causing inflammation and excess collagen production. The symptoms can range from skin tightness and joint pain to severe organ damage, and if left untreated, the disease can be fatal.
Types of Scleroderma
Scleroderma is a complex disease with many different subtypes, each with its unique characteristics and symptoms. Understanding the different types of scleroderma is important because it can help patients and their doctors to better manage the disease. Let’s take a closer look at the two main types of scleroderma:
- Localised scleroderma is the milder of the two types and affects only certain areas of the skin. This type of scleroderma typically only affects the skin and does not spread to the internal organs. Although it usually doesn’t affect internal organs, localised scleroderma can cause joint pain and stiffness. There are two subtypes of localised scleroderma:
- Morphea scleroderma causes patches of hard, discoloured skin that can have a variety of shapes and sizes.
- Linear scleroderma causes a line or band of hard, thickened skin on the arms, legs, or forehead.
- Diffuse scleroderma, On the contrary, is an extremely severe type of scleroderma that can affect both the skin and internal organs of the body, including the heart, lungs, and kidneys. This type of scleroderma is characterised by rapid skin thickening that can spread to the internal organs. Patients with diffuse scleroderma may also experience fatigue, weight loss, joint pain, and difficulties in breathing or swallowing.
It’s important to note that while these are the two main types of scleroderma, the disease can present in many different ways, and not every patient fits neatly into one of these categories. In fact, some patients may have symptoms of both localised and diffuse scleroderma.
If you think you may have scleroderma or have been diagnosed with the disease, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to manage your symptoms and monitor your condition.
Causes of Scleroderma
Scleroderma definition originates from the Greek words “sclero” meaning hard and “derma” meaning skin. The exact causes of scleroderma are not yet comprehensively understood. However, it is widely believed that the condition results from both genetic and environmental factors that contribute to its development.
Certain genes are known to contribute to the development of scleroderma by influencing the immune system. These genes can trigger an autoimmune response in which the body’s defence mechanism starts attacking its healthy tissues. This, in turn, results in the inflammation of tissues and overproduction of collagen, leading to the characteristic hardening and thickening of the skin associated with scleroderma.
Along with genetics, environmental conditions also contribute to the formation of scleroderma. Exposure to environmental toxins such as silica dust or organic solvents, as well as certain infections like hepatitis C or Epstein-Barr virus, have been associated with an elevated risk of developing the disease. However, not everyone who encounters these risk factors will necessarily develop scleroderma.
Although the precise interrelationship between genetic and environmental factors in causing scleroderma is still under investigation, it is evident that the condition arises from a multifaceted interplay between these factors.
Symptoms of Scleroderma
While the exact causes of scleroderma are not fully understood, its symptoms can have a significant impact on your daily life. From skin changes to kidney problems, it’s important to recognize the signs of scleroderma and seek medical attention if you suspect you may have the condition.
- Skin changes: One of the hallmark symptoms of scleroderma is skin changes. This includes thickening and hardening of the skin, especially on the hands and face. In addition, the skin may become tight and shiny, and may be difficult to move.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon: This is an ailment in which the fingers and toes turn white in response to cold or stress. This occurs because the blood vessels in the affected areas constrict, which reduces blood flow to the area. Over time, this can lead to skin ulcerations and even gangrene.
- Digestive problems: Scleroderma can cause several digestive problems, including difficulty in swallowing, heartburn, and bloating. In severe cases, the digestive tract can become damaged, which can lead to malnutrition.
- Joint pain: Scleroderma can cause joint pain and stiffness, which can be mistaken for arthritis. However, unlike arthritis, scleroderma does not usually cause joint damage.
- Lung problems: Scleroderma can cause lung scarring, making it difficult to breathe. This also causes shortness of breath, fatigue, and coughing.
- Kidney problems: In some cases, scleroderma can cause damage to the kidneys, this can result in hypertension and renal failure.
Notably, the symptoms of scleroderma can differ significantly from one person to another, and some individuals may encounter only mild symptoms while others may experience severe manifestations of the disease.
Diagnosis of Scleroderma
The diagnosis process for scleroderma starts with a comprehensive medical history and physical examination. Your healthcare provider will inquire about your symptoms, family medical history, as well as any current or prior medical conditions you may have had.
But that’s just the beginning! To confirm a diagnosis of scleroderma, further tests may be required. Typically, blood tests are conducted to detect the specific antibodies present in individuals with scleroderma. These tests can help identify the type of scleroderma and the severity of the disease.
To further assess the extent of internal organ involvement, tests like, MRI scans, X-rays and CT scans can also be ordered by the doctor. In some cases, a skin biopsy is required to confirm the diagnosis. In skin biopsy, your doctor will remove a small sample of skin for examination under a microscope for characteristic changes associated with scleroderma.
Although there is currently no known cure for scleroderma, several treatments exist to manage symptoms and delay the advancement of the condition.
- Collagen treatment- Collagen treatment involves the injection of collagen into the skin to stimulate collagen production. This can help improve the appearance of tight, thickened skin that is characteristic of scleroderma.
- Phototherapy- phototherapy or light therapy, can be used to help improve skin symptoms associated with scleroderma. Phototherapy involves using ultraviolet (UV) light to help reduce skin thickening and improve skin texture, it can also be used as skin tightening treatment.
- Immunosuppressive therapy- The objective of immunosuppressive therapy is to decrease inflammation and impede the advancement of scleroderma by administering medications that suppress the immune system.
In a Nutshell
Numerous skin conditions, from acne to eczema to psoriasis, can affect your skin’s appearance and health. However, not all skin conditions are the same, and some may require specialised treatment. This includes scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that affects the skin and internal organs. With proper diagnosis and treatment from a dermatologist, many of these conditions can be effectively managed.
It is crucial to keep in mind that certain skin issues may indicate the presence of underlying health problems, such as those skin problems related to kidney and liver function. Therefore, seeking professional advice from a dermatologist is crucial for both the health and appearance of your skin. If you’re looking for a dermatologist in your area, visit https://www.skinandhairacademy.in/find-local-dermatologist and embark on a journey towards the radiant, beautiful skin you’ve always wanted.
FAQ on Scleroderma
1.What is scleroderma caused by?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition, characterised by the body’s immune system attacking its own tissues. Although the exact cause of scleroderma remains unknown, researchers suggest that it arises from a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors that activate the immune system to attack the body’s tissues.
2.What test confirms scleroderma?
Blood tests are usually done to check for antibodies commonly found in scleroderma patients, such as anti-centromere antibodies and anti-Scl-70 antibodies. These antibodies can help identify the type of scleroderma and the severity of the disease.
3.Is scleroderma life-threatening?
Scleroderma can be a serious threat to an individual’s health and well-being, especially when it targets vital organs such as the heart, lungs, or kidneys. Nevertheless, with appropriate treatment and attentive care, many people with scleroderma can maintain a rewarding and meaningful life. Timely identification and diagnosis, along with proactive disease management, can significantly improve outcomes and enhance the overall quality of life for those affected by scleroderma.
4.Can scleroderma go away?
Scleroderma has no known cure, but appropriate treatment and care can help manage symptoms and delay the progression of the disease. Remission periods may occur in some cases, allowing individuals to experience relief from their symptoms.
5.What is the life expectancy of scleroderma?
The life expectancy of individuals with scleroderma can differ depending on the severity of their condition and which organs are impacted. Nevertheless, with appropriate treatment and care, individuals with scleroderma can lead long and healthy lives.
6.Can Ayurveda cure scleroderma?
There is no known cure for scleroderma, and Ayurvedic remedies are not considered a reliable treatment option for scleroderma. It is important to seek professional medical advice from a qualified dermatologist or rheumatologist for the proper diagnosis and management of scleroderma.