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How Scleroderma Impacts Your Digestive System

Scleroderma is an autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects the connective tissues in the body. It’s primarily characterized by the hardening and tightening of the skin and other connective tissues. However, it can also impact the digestive system.

A comprehensive evaluation is required to be sure that your symptoms are related to scleroderma. Here at Valerius Medical Group & Research Center, our team specializes in diagnosing and treating inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, such as scleroderma. We will gather the appropriate medical history and background information, as well as order any relevant tests to get to the bottom of your symptoms.

Scleroderma and digestive symptoms

Some individuals with scleroderma experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as:

Individuals with digestive issues have a subtype of scleroderma categorized as systemic sclerosis, a type that affects the skin and internal organs.

How scleroderma affects the digestive system

In individuals with scleroderma, the digestive system is the second most commonly affected organ after the skin. Most people with digestive-involved scleroderma have digestive symptoms severe enough to get in the way of daily activities.

If you have systemic sclerosis, the condition can reduce blood flow to the nerves involved with the gut. This can lead to reduced stimulation and weakened digestive muscles. The result is that the condition can affect the entire gastrointestinal system.

Esophagus

The esophagus is a tube that enables food to go from your mouth to your stomach. It utilizes coordinated contractions and movements, which require the healthy functioning of the digestive muscles. The weakening of these muscles can cause gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and the resulting symptoms of heartburn.

Stomach

Reduced blood supply to the nerves in the digestive system along with weakened digestive muscles can cause a marked decrease in digestion, resulting in bloating, nausea, constipation, and other digestive symptoms.

Small bowel

The small intestine is a vital part of the digestive system, and it’s responsible for absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat. Symptoms from weakened muscles can reduce the efficiency of the small bowel. Bloating, nausea, and vomiting are common symptoms.

This can also allow certain bacteria to grow unchecked, causing small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Nutrient deficiencies and weight loss are typical warning signs.

Large intestine

Scleroderma can also affect the large bowel, which is responsible for reabsorbing water and salts. In individuals with scleroderma, the bowel can have a harder time reabsorbing water, which can cause constipation. We tend to find that patients with systemic sclerosis have fewer bowel movements than normal.

Managing scleroderma-related digestive symptoms

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing scleroderma or related digestive symptoms. Your provider will create an individualized treatment plan to address your digestive symptoms. This may involve medications to dilate blood vessels and relieve symptoms of heartburn. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life.

If you have scleroderma or want to see if you do, we can give you a thorough exam and provide treatment if needed. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Valerius Medical Group & Research Center today.

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