The month of June is Scleroderma Awareness Month and we want to take this opportunity to raise awareness about this rare and little-understood condition.
What is scleroderma?
The name of the disease comes from Greek and means “hard skin” (sclero=hard; derma=skin), which is often the first and most obvious symptom.
Scleroderma is described as autoimmune because the immune system becomes overactive and attacks the body’s own healthy tissues. It is a very rare condition and 2.5 million individuals worldwide have it, mostly women. In the UK, 19,000 people have been diagnosed with scleroderma.
What are the symptoms of scleroderma?
In its mild form, scleroderma only affects the skin, provoking thickened, discoloured and itchy skin patches (known as localised scleroderma) due to the body producing too much collagen. It can appear anywhere on the body including the face, scalp, legs and arms. This type of scleroderma may improve by itself in time, but it could cause permanent complications such as shortened limbs in children (NHS).
The more severe form, often referred to as systemic sclerosis, affects the internal organs as well as the skin. According to Versus Arthritis, people with systemic sclerosis can experience any of the following symptoms, depending on which parts of their body are affected:
- Thickening and hardening of the skin in various locations on the body
- Red spots on the skin
- Swelling of the hands and feet, especially in the morning
- Digestive problems
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Heart, lung and kidney complications (rare)
- Raynaud’s syndrome (the hands and feet are over-sensitive to cold and stress and can turn white then blue)
For a more deeper understanding of scleroderma’s symptoms visit Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK (SRUK) website.
What is the link between scleroderma and Raynaud’s syndrome?
Most of the people with Raynaud’s experience white then blue hands and feet when feeling cold. Even if these manifestations are very similar to those of scleroderma, very few Raynaud’s cases are linked to other illnesses, including scleroderma.
Nonetheless, for 95% of people with scleroderma, Raynaud’s was their first symptom and 0.1% of Raynaud’s sufferers will develop scleroderma. Usually, there are 3 signs that can indicate scleroderma:
- Swollen fingers
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- Heartburn and reflux
What causes scleroderma and how can it be treated?
It is not yet known what exactly leads to scleroderma and why the immune system is attacking the healthy tissues. Arthritis Research UK claims that it might be a mix of genetic and environmental factors. They also say that scleroderma isn’t contagious so you can’t catch it from somebody else.
Although there is no cure for it, scleroderma can usually be kept under control with medication, a good skin care routine and a heathy lifestyle. Milder types of scleroderma may eventually get better on their own.
People with scleroderma can live normal lives, but it can also be life-threatening. This is why early diagnosis is important and understanding scleroderma will make you more aware of the possible symptoms and what to expect.
If you think you might suffer from scleroderma or Raynaud’s, make sure you talk to your doctor as soon as possible and report all your symptoms, no matter how insignificant they may seem. For more information and support on getting diagnosed check SRUK’s page.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.