Scleroderma Symptoms

Symptoms of scleroderma may include:

  • Thickening and swelling of the fingers
  • Pale fingers that may become numb and tingle when exposed to cold or stress, known as Raynaud's phenomenon
  • Joint pain
  • Taut, shiny, darker skin on large areas, which can cause problems with movement
  • Limited mobility or immobile fingers, wrists or elbows because of the thickening of the skin

Systemic forms of scleroderma are associated with involvement of the internal organs, which may cause:

  • Calcium bumps on your fingers or other bony areas such as your elbows and knees
  • Sores on your fingertips and knuckles
  • A grating noise when you try to move your inflamed joints and tissues
  • Problems of the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn and trouble swallowing
  • Scarring of the lungs, which can lead to shortness of breath
  • Heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms
  • High blood pressure that affects the kidneys

The specific symptoms and the way scleroderma appears depend on the type of scleroderma. The majority of people with scleroderma, however, will see changes to their skin, typically in the form of body areas that harden and tighten.

Scleroderma can affect small areas of the body — as ovals or straight lines — or it can cover much wider areas and even entire limbs. Since the skin becomes tight, the ability to move might be restricted, and the skin may look shiny.

Scleroderma typically appears as a hardening and tightening of the skin and the connective tissue underneath it. The symptoms of scleroderma may vary and can look quite different in each person. In some people, it only affects the skin, but in others, scleroderma goes much deeper, harming your joints, blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract, in addition to the skin. The particular symptoms might just be annoying or they could cause significant problems and pain. For some, the symptoms can be life-threatening.

Most scleroderma patients also experience some pain, which can range from uncomfortable to debilitating.

Early Symptoms of Scleroderma

Two of the symptoms listed above are often early signs of scleroderma. The fingers may become: 

  • Highly sensitive to the cold and change color with cold or emotional stress (the symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Stiff and puffy

These symptoms happen because the blood vessels narrow due to spasm. Excess collagen can also damage blood vessels.  

If You Believe You Could Have Scleroderma

Since many scleroderma symptoms resemble those of other conditions, and the severity varies from person to person, a doctor should evaluate the problems carefully. If scleroderma is thought to be the cause of the clinical symptoms, referral to a rheumatologist in a scleroderma center is recommended.

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