Understanding Scleroderma

Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease that affects the skin and other organs. An estimated 300,000 people in the United States live with scleroderma. The primary features are thickening and tightening of the skin as well as inflammation of various organs. 

While there is no cure for scleroderma, rheumatologists play a key role in helping patients manage the condition. Together, rheumatologists Nathaniel Neal, MD, and Rebekah Neal-Kraal, MD, of Valerius Medical Group & Research Center in Los Alamitos, California, possess more than two decades of experience providing the highest quality of care to patients with rheumatic conditions. 

What is scleroderma

A rare condition, scleroderma is a rheumatic disease that causes connective tissues to harden. This causes skin to become thick and scar tissue to build up in various organs, including the following:

The effects can range from mild to life-threatening depending on the affected body part and the severity to which each body part is affected.

Types of scleroderma

There are two primary types of scleroderma. 

Localized scleroderma

This form is primarily limited to the skin. In some cases, it may affect the joints, muscles, and bones but not affect the internal organs. 

Systemic scleroderma

This is a more serious type of scleroderma that can affect the skin along with the internal organs. 

Immune system involvement

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system mistakenly attacks parts of your body. Normally, the immune system works to ward off foreign invaders, such as harmful bacteria and viruses. In individuals with autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues as foreign.  

Damage from an autoimmune attack can cause cells to produce too much or too little of key substances. In scleroderma, cells produce too much collagen, a key connective tissue protein. As the excess collagen accumulates in tissues and organs, it can prevent the tissues and organs from functioning properly. 

Scleroderma varies from person to person

Each person experiences scleroderma differently. Some people can have mild symptoms and no involvement other than the skin, while others can have serious health issues as a result. For most people, symptoms flare up and then go into remission for a period of time before flaring up again. The goal of treatment is to reduce and manage flare-ups and prevent complications.

Scleroderma is long-lasting

Scleroderma is a chronic condition. This means that it won’t go away. With the right treatment, you can extend the time between flare-ups and minimize your symptoms when you have a flare-up.

Who gets scleroderma?

The underlying mechanism of what causes scleroderma is yet to be understood. We do know that it affects women much more than men, and that it most commonly occurs between the ages of 35-50.

Researchers have yet to identify risk factors, but they think there may be a genetic component. They also believe that environmental factors may contribute to the development of scleroderma. 

Early warning signs

Changes in the fingers have been observed as an early warning sign of scleroderma. Your fingers may become sensitive to temperature changes and may feel cold even when the temperature is comfortable. 

Additionally, your fingers may become stiff and appear swollen. These symptoms are consistent with Raynaud’s syndrome. However, many people who have Raynaud’s syndrome will not go on to develop scleroderma. 

A small percentage of people with Raynaud’s syndrome can develop Scleroderma. If you have Raynaud’s syndrome and are concerned, the doctors at Valerius Medical Group & Research Center can discuss it with you.

Scleroderma may change over time

Scleroderma is a progressive condition. Your symptoms may wax and wane over time, and you may have periods where you experience more severe symptoms and times where your condition is well-controlled and remains in remission. 

Some people go for long periods without flare-ups, while others can experience significant symptoms more frequently. No matter how scleroderma is affecting you, the doctors at Valerius Medical Group & Research Center will recommend an individualized treatment plan that works in your situation. 

If you have scleroderma or another rheumatic condition and want expert treatment, book an appointment online or over the phone with Valerius Medical Group & Research Center today.

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