Scleroderma is a disease that affects the skin and organs. Similar to other autoimmune conditions, the immune system causes inflammation in healthy tissues in the body. The disease will typically tighten the skin and scar body parts. Subsequently, these symptoms can lead to more significant issues with the lungs, kidneys, heart, and other organs.
Scleroderma is a rare disease that only affects about 75 to 100 thousand Americans. Most of those people are women between the age of 30 and 50. It is believed that genetics has a role to play in the development of scleroderma. If you have relatives who suffer from lupus or other autoimmune connective tissue diseases, then you may have a higher risk of developing scleroderma.
Types of Scleroderma
There are two main types of scleroderma: localized and systemic.
Localized scleroderma usually only affects the skin and typically does not attack the organs. However, this version of the disease can spread to joints, bones, and muscles.
The second form of scleroderma is systemic. This is the more serious form of scleroderma because it can affect vital organs such as the heart, lungs, intestines, and kidneys.
Symptoms of localized scleroderma include:
- Discolored patches on the skin
- Areas of thick, hard skin on the arms and legs
- Thin or wide scars
- Muscle degeneration
Systemic scleroderma symptoms include:
- Thickening of skin and shiny appearance around the mouth and on bony areas such as fingers and nose
- Hair loss
- Pain in joints
- Difficulty swallowing
- Shortness of breath and chest pain
- Esophageal reflux
What Are My Scleroderma Treatment Options?
There is no cure for Scleroderma, but there are treatments available to manage the uncomfortable symptoms including medications to suppress the immune systems, steroids to manage the inflammation, and drugs to decrease the gastrointestinal symptoms. However, there are no medications available that stop the overproduction of collagen.
Learn More About Scleroderma
Frequently Asked Questions
How is Scleroderma Diagnosed?
Diagnosing scleroderma is difficult because the symptoms resemble those of other diseases. A comprehensive physical exam and full medical history including family history is essential to diagnosis. Blood tests will check for specific antibodies and inflammatory markers. Imaging of the esophagus, lungs, and heart are often needed to assess for damage and dysfunction.
What are the Complications of Scleroderma?
Complications of scleroderma, which range in severity, can include:
- Restricted blood flow to fingertips, which can result in ulcers or wounds that can become infected and in serious cases, can lead to amputation
- Reduced lung function and scarring of the lungs
- Kidney problems including elevated blood pressure, decreased kidney function, and eventually kidney failure
- Scarring of heart tissue that can lead to abnormal heartbeats, decreased cardiac function, and eventually congestive heart failure
- Digestive system issues ranging from heartburn to difficulty swallowing
- Decreased sexual function, including erectile dysfunction in men and decreased lubrication and constricted vaginal opening in women
Dr. Tamar Brionez
About Our Doctor
Dr. Brionez has more than 10 years of experience in diagnosing and treating rheumatic musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences from Texas A&M University and completed her Doctor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Additionally, she completed her Fellowship in Rheumatology at the University of Texas-Health Science Center. Dr. Brionez is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Rheumatology and has been in private practice since 2009.
Dr. Brionez is known for her dedication to her patients and her ability to diagnose complex conditions. She adheres to the highest standards of medical care while relying on cutting-edge technology and the most up-to-date medical research. Dr. Brionez has adopted a holistic view of her patients’ health and is considered a leading specialist in managing complex autoimmune disorders including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, scleroderma, osteoporosis, and many others. She is fluent in Spanish and is dedicated to hiring diverse staff to best meet her patients’ needs.