Scleroderma

What is scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a chronic disease that causes abnormal growth of connective tissue. It can affect the joints, skin, and internal organs. It is degenerative and gets worse over time. The disease can be in one area of the body. This is known as localized scleroderma. Or it may affect the whole body. This is known as systemic sclerosis. Scleroderma is more common in women.

What causes scleroderma?

Scleroderma is thought to be an autoimmune disease. This means the symptoms are caused
by the body attacking its own healthy tissues. Genes play a role in the disease, but the
environment also plays a role. Family members of people with scleroderma have a mildly
increased risk of developing scleroderma. But many people with scleroderma don’t have
family members with the condition.

What are the symptoms of scleroderma?

Scleroderma can lead to scarring of the skin, joints, and internal organs. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person, and may include:

  • Calcium bumps on the fingers or other bony areas
  • Grating noise as inflamed tissues move
  • Heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms
  • Immovable fingers, wrists, or elbows because of scarring of the skin
  • Joint pain
  • Kidney disease
  • Pale
    and tingly fingers that may turn numb when exposed to cold or during emotional upset
    (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Scarring
    of the esophagus. This leads to heartburn and trouble swallowing.
  • Scarring of the lungs. This leads to shortness of breath.
  • Sores on fingertips and knuckles
  • Spider veins
  • Tight, shiny, darker skin on large areas that may cause problems with movement
  • Thickening and swelling of the tips of the fingers

The symptoms of scleroderma can look like other health conditions. Make sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is scleroderma diagnosed?

The
process starts with a health history and a physical exam. Diagnosis is based on the
changes in the skin and internal organs. An antibody test may help show the type of
scleroderma. You may need tests such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test records the electrical activity of the
    heart, shows abnormal rhythms, and detects heart muscle damage. An ECG may be done to
    find changes in the heart muscle tissue caused by scleroderma.
  • Echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to create a moving image of the heart and its valves. It is done to look at the structure and function of the heart.
  • X-ray. This test uses a small amount of radiation to create images of internal tissues, bones, and organs. X-rays may show changes in bone, soft tissues, and organs caused by scleroderma.
  • CT
    scan. A chest CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to make images of the body. It may
    be done to check for intersitial lung disease and bone abnormalities.