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We've covered many autoimmune diseases in this space, and it's always remarkable how many different pathways inflammation can take. In the case of scleroderma, this rheumatic autoimmune disease tends to involve the thickening or tightening of the skin and the connective tissue under it, but many other symptoms may be present. Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose due to the variety of symptoms, and scleroderma is no exception. Due to this, research on the disease is limited and needs increased attention in order for doctors to better treat scleroderma.
Scleroderma presents itself with a variety of symptoms:
The tightening of skin can appear in different ways: in small areas; as ovals or straight lines; over wider areas; or over entire limbs. The taut skin may appear dark or shiny, and it may limit movement.
An estimated 300,000 Americans have scleroderma, although the difficulty of diagnosis makes this number hard to pin down. About one-third of these patients have systemic scleroderma, the most serious form of the disease. There are two types of the disease, localized and systemic scleroderma.
Typically only affecting the skin, localized scleroderma can spread to muscles, bones, and joints, but not to the internal organs. The following symptoms may appear:
The most serious form of the disease, systemic scleroderma can affect the skin, muscles, joints, blood vessels, and internal organs including the lungs, kidneys, and heart. The following symptoms may appear:
As we've said, diagnosing scleroderma can be difficult because some of the symptoms are shared with other autoimmune and rheumatic disorders. Typically doctors will look for the following symptoms as part of an assessment of schleroderma:
Living with scleroderma is difficult, as there is no drug that has been shown to stop or reverse the hardening and thickening of skin, the major symptom of the disease. Other symptoms (such as heartburn, kidney disease, Reynaud's phenomenon, and joint and muscle pain) can be improved with drugs, but lifestyle management is one of the most common methods of treatment.
Some methods of pain and lifestyle management may include: