Scleroderma is a group of diseases that causes skin and sometimes internal organs to become hard and tight. In fact, the word scleroderma actually means "hard skin." Scleroderma occurs when the body makes too much collagen, the protein that makes up connective tissues.
Localized scleroderma usually only affects the skin on the hands and face. Systemic scleroderma is more serious and affects connective tissue in many parts of your body, including internal organs. Scleroderma is considered an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. According to the Scleroderma Foundation, about 300,000 people in the United States have the condition. It is more common in women than men.
Symptoms of scleroderma may include the following:
Doctors believe scleroderma is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body's own tissues. The immune system attack causes inflammation and an overproduction of collagen. Too much collagen causes the skin, and sometimes the internal organs, to become hard and tight. Researchers aren't sure what triggers this autoimmune response. Both genetics and environment may play a role.
These factors may increase the risk of scleroderma:
It isn't 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, checking for thickened and hardened areas. The doctor may also press affected tendons and joints. The doctor may also do the following procedures:
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.
Although no one knows how to prevent scleroderma, you can take steps to avoid getting infections when you have scleroderma. Your doctor may recommend:
There is no cure for scleroderma. Medication can treat symptoms and may help prevent complications. Lifestyle and dietary changes can make living with the disease easier.
These simple steps may help improve quality of life:
Localized scleroderma often is treated with moisturizers applied to the skin or corticosteroids. Oral medications such as minocycline (Minocin or Dynacin) may also be used to stop the progression of localized scleroderma if it involves a large area of the body, such as an entire arm or leg.
Systemic scleroderma may be treated with medications that improve circulation, reduce heartburn, preserve kidney function, and control high blood pressure. Some medications a doctor may prescribe for scleroderma include:
When symptoms of scleroderma become very severe, doctors may recommend the following procedures:
People with scleroderma may not get enough vitamins and minerals in their diet, especially if there is damage to their gastrointestinal system. Ask your team of health care providers about the best ways toad complementary and alternative therapies into your overall treatment plan. Always tell your doctor about the herbs and supplements you are using or considering using.
These general nutritional tips are good for your overall health, especially if you have a chronic disease:
Your doctor may also recommend taking a multivitamin daily, containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, the B-complex vitamins, and trace minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and selenium.
These supplements may help reduce some symptoms:
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to get your problem diagnosed before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, you should make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Very few studies have been done using these herbs to treat scleroderma. Ask your doctor before adding any of these herbs to your treatment plan.
A few studies suggest that acupuncture may improve circulation in the hands and fingers, help heal fingertip ulcers, and maybe reduce the formation of fibrous tissue in people with scleroderma. Acupuncture may also relieve pain.
Research suggests that massage may help improve circulation. More research is needed to know whether massage is really an effective therapy for scleroderma.
Biofeedback may help some people with scleroderma better control the temperature in their hands and feet, although studies are mixed. Other mind-body techniques such as counseling, meditation, and emotional freedom technique (EFT) may help.
Possible complications include the following:
The prognosis for people with scleroderma depends a lot on which form of the disease they have. For example:
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