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What is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease in which the body produces too much collagen, a connective tissue. This overproduction results in thickened skin with hard patches in one or more locations – in fact, the term scleroderma means “hard skin”.
Scleroderma is a chronic condition whose causes are unknown. It most commonly affects women between the ages of 30 and 50. As it can affect internal organs in addition to the skin, it is important to seek treatment early. The effects of this disease range from mild to very severe, thus the importance of consulting a physician.
Symptoms and causes
Scleroderma’s primary symptom is hard patches of thickened skin. The condition can also cause joint pain and stiffness or even the hardening of underlying bone and muscle. Patients may experience rashes, ulcers, tightening of the skin in areas and increased sensitivity to cold.
Some patients may also experience some of the following symptoms: acid reflux, difficulty swallowing, headache, fatigue, and a cough or shortness of breath. Muscles, blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, heart and other organs may be affected.
There is no cure for scleroderma, although some cases resolve on their own. Physicians may use X-rays, CT scans and MRIs to assist in diagnosis. Primarily, physicians are able to treat scleroderma’s various symptoms rather than halting the disease itself. Corticosteroids and other drugs can help reduce inflammation but do not treat the underlying cause of excess collagen.
Similarly, acid reflux may be treated with antacids; kidney disease may be treated with blood pressure medication. Dressing in warm layers of clothing, using moisturizers regularly, exercising and maintaining a healthy diet are all recommended.