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WHAT IS SCLERODERMA?
Scleroderma (also known as systemic sclerosis) is a chronic disease that causes the skin to become thick and hard, a buildup of scar tissue, and damage to internal organs such as the heart and blood vessels, lungs, stomach and kidneys. The effects of scleroderma vary widely and range from minor to life threatening, depending on how widespread the disease is and which parts of the body are affected.
Scleroderma is a disease affecting the skin and other organs of the body. Scleroderma is one of the autoimmune rheumatic diseases, meaning that the body’s immune system is acting abnormally. The main finding in scleroderma is thickening and tightening of the skin, and inflammation and scarring of many body parts leading to problems in the lungs, kidneys, heart, intestinal system and other areas. There is still no cure for scleroderma but effective treatments for some forms of the disease are available.
It is not always easy to diagnose scleroderma. You may need to see both a rheumatologist (arthritis specialist) and a dermatologist (skin specialist). The doctor will do a physical examination and feel your skin to check for thickened and hardened areas. The doctor may also press affected tendons and joints and do the following:
- Blood tests, to look for higher levels of antibodies made by the immune system.
- Skin biopsy, to uncover skin problems.
- Chest X ray or pulmonary function test, to assess lung damage.
- MRI or CT scan, to determine whether there is damage to the muscles and internal organs.
Many early scleroderma symptoms are like those of other connective-tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and polymyositis. When someone has more than one of these diseases, it is called mixed connective-tissue disease.
Besides thickening and hardening of the skin, scleroderma can cause skin to lose elasticity and become shiny as it stretches across bones. Other symptoms include:
- Numbness, pain or color changes in fingers, toes, cheeks, nose and ears, often brought on by cold or emotional distress
- Stiffness or pain in joints, such as elbows and knuckles
- Digestive problems ranging from not absorbing nutrients well to delayed movement of food because the muscles of the intestines aren’t working well.
- Sores over joints, such as elbows and knuckles
- Puffy hands and feet, particularly in the morning
There is no known cure for scleroderma. Treatment options include:
- Drugs for the symptoms, which can make living with scleroderma easier. The doctor may also suggest ways to deal with complications that affect various organs.
- Moisturizers or corticosteroid creams to apply to the skin. Corticosteroids impede the body’s ability to make substances that can cause inflammation.
- Systemic drugs to try halting the disease. These may include drugs to improve blood flow, promote esophagus and bowel function, protect kidney function and bring down high blood pressure.
Treatments for Raynaud’s phenomenon to expand blood vessels and promote circulation include:
- Calcium channel blockers. These help relax blood vessel muscles.
- Alpha blockers. These prevent muscle contractions in smaller arteries and lessen the effect of natural chemicals that narrow blood vessels.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These help relax blood vessels by blocking the production of a natural chemical in the body that narrows blood vessels.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers. These act work like ACE inhibitors, but they block the action of the chemical instead of the formation of the chemical itself.
- Low-dose enteric-coated aspirin. Aspirin reduces the blood’s clotting action to help keep blood vessels open. The aspirin’s coating stops the release and absorption of the aspirin until it reaches the intestines.
- Creams with nitroglycerin also may help promote circulation
The aim of Scleroderma Treatment is to relieve symptoms, prevent the condition getting worse, detect and treat any complications and help you maintain the use of affected parts of the body.
Common Scleroderma Treatments include:
Scleroderma medication to improve circulation
Scleroderma medicines that reduce the activity of the immune system and slow the progression of the condition
Moisturizing affected areas of skin to help keep it supple and relieve itchiness caused by Scleroderma