What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a disease characterized by the development of scar-like tissue, causing stiffening and hardening of tissues. Scleroderma is classified as one of the autoimmune diseases. It is a chronic condition that is not contagious, infections or cancerous. Scleroderma can develop in every age group from infants to the elderly, but it is most typically diagnosed between the ages of 25-55.
What causes scleroderma?
The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown, but it is believed to be related to an overproduction of collagen, the main component of connective tissue in our bodies.
What are the symptoms of scleroderma?
Scleroderma can weaken your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The lower esophageal sphincter is a band of muscles that separates your food tube (esophagus) from your stomach. When the LES is weakened, it allows acid to wash into your esophagus causing symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) such as heartburn, chest pain and acid taste in the mouth.
How is scleroderma diagnosed?
Your doctor will assess your medical history, complete a physical examination and may order blood work. Your doctor may also consult with rheumatologists (arthritis specialists) and/or dermatologists (skin specialists) depending on which organs are affected.
How is scleroderma treated?
At the present time, there is no cure for scleroderma, but there are many treatments available. Some are used for symptoms like heartburn or to improve the movement (motility) of the GI tract. Some treatments are used to decrease the activity of the immune system. Occasionally, people can go off treatment when their scleroderma is no longer active and some people with mild disease may not need medication at all. Because there is so much variation from one person to another there is great variation in the treatments prescribed.
When to seek medical advice?
Contact your health care provider if you experience new symptoms, chest pain, difficult or painful swallowing, or unexplained weight loss.
Additional Resources for scleroderma
Scleroderma Foundation www.scleroderma.org