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Scleroderma is a chronic condition that affects the skin. This medical condition is a group of various uncommon diseases, that is characterized by the hardening and tightening of the connective tissues of the body, and also the skin. This disease sometimes only occurs in the skin. However, it also, in most patients, also affects other structures of the body, apart from the skin. Examples of these structures include the blood vessels, organs of the digestive system and so on. The signs and symptoms of this disease vary and depend on which system or organs are affected. Some of the common symptoms of this disease include the thickening of the skin, stiffness of the joints, reduced blood flow to the extremities, such as the fingers and toes, especially when exposed to cold. This is also known as Raynaud phenomenon. The exact cause of the disease isn’t known yet, although some factors have been identified. Family history, genetics, and environmental factors have been identified to contribute to the development of the disease largely. Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease. This means that the mechanism behind the development of this disease is the attack of healthy tissues by the body’s immune system. Physicians diagnose this disease based on the presenting signs and symptoms of the patient. In addition, they also carry out other tests, to exclude other diseases, and to confirm it’s scleroderma. Some of these tests include blood tests and biopsy. Scleroderma has no cure. Although, there are treatments to manage the disease, and improve the symptoms successfully. Physicians do administer medications. Some of this drug include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and so on. The outcome of the disease depends on the type the patient has. People affected with the system form of scleroderma usually have a life expectancy of about 11 years, from when the disease started, while those with the localized form do live a normal life. Researchers are also working on ways to make use of exosomes in the treatment of the disease, because of its potentials.
What Are The Types Of Scleroderma?
There are two types of scleroderma. These are limited scleroderma and diffuse scleroderma. People affected with the limited form of the disease presents with the hardening of their skin. This does not extend beyond the elbows and the knee. On the other hand, the systemic form of scleroderma does not affect the skin but affects the internal organs. This form of the disease affects the renal system, and also cause the inflammation of the lungs. In addition, diffuse scleroderma is difficult to diagnose, and it’s the more dangerous of the two forms. Early diagnosis is essential, as this disease has a tendency to progress rapidly. The earlier this disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.
Warning Signs of Scleroderma
As previously mentioned, the earlier this disease is diagnosed and managed, the better the outcome. Especially when the patient is affected by the systemic/diffuse form of scleroderma. Below are some of the signs and symptoms you should look out for if affected by scleroderma;
- Skin: This is one of the initial and most common symptoms of scleroderma, especially limited scleroderma. Patients would present with thickening and hardening of the skin. This might appear as patches on the skin. It usually occurs in places like the trunks and also on the extremities. The size of these patches does vary and also depend on the form of scleroderma the patient has. The patient might also experience some rigidity in the affected area or joints. You should consult your physician if you notice the above symptom.
- Systemic presentations: The systemic form of scleroderma do affect the organs. The organs most affected by this disease include the renal and pulmonary The cardiovascular system is also affected. These symptoms can become life-threatening if not well managed.
- Raynaud phenomenon: This tends to occur in the early stage of the disease. This condition tends to affect the fingers and the toes. It occurs as a result of a sudden change in temperature, and also stress. Patients experience pain, and the color of the extremities also changes.
- Digestive system: Persons affected by scleroderma do have difficulty in absorbing nutrients from food in their intestine. In addition, some might also develop acid reflux, which might damage some sections of the digestive tract.
What Is The Cause Of Scleroderma?
Scleroderma occurs due to the production and deposition of excess collagen in the body tissues. Collagen is the building substance of the connective tissues, which includes the skin. The exact mechanism of how this disease isn’t known yet, however, the immune system has been suggested to play an important role in t eh development of this disease. People who are genetically predisposed to having this disease might be triggered by some factors. Some of these factors are chemicals in the form of insecticides, chlorinated solvents and so on.
What Are The Complications Of Scleroderma?
The complications usually vary in different people. It can also be mild, moderate and severe. Below are some of the complications of scleroderma, especially if left untreated;
- Pulmonary system: Scleroderma can lead to the impairment of the lung tissues. This could lead to a reduction in the ability to breathe. In addition, patients might develop hypertension in the pulmonary arteries. All this occurrence can be attributed to the accumulation of collagen in the lung tissues.
- Cardiovascular system: Scleroderma in the heart usually leads to the scarring and thickening of the heart muscles. This could lead to the development of other heart-related conditions such as arrhythmia, cardiac failure, pericarditis and so on.
- Reproductive system: This disease causes erectile dysfunction in men. This is probably due to the hardening of the penile vessels, making it difficult for blood to engorge it when aroused. However, women affected with scleroderma often present with reduced vaginal lubrication. In addition, their vaginal opening might become constricted.
How Is Scleroderma Treated?
This disease does not have a cure yet. However, there are some medications that ease the pain and gives the patient a more comfortable life. These medications are aimed at reducing the pain, giving the patient more strength, especially in the affected part, and also making life comfortable for the patient.
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Moinzadeh, P., Hunzelmann, N., Kreuter, A. and Krieg, T. (2016). Localized scleroderma: a review. Journal of Scleroderma and Related Disorders, 1(3), pp.286-297.