Scleroderma is a chronic disease that can affect both the patient’s physical and mental health. The key to feeling better is to tailor the scleroderma treatment to meet the specific needs, taking into account symptoms, type of scleroderma, age and overall health of the patient.
Currently, there’s no cure for scleroderma, so doctors will find the treatments that work best to decrease the severity of the specific symptoms and manage or prevent additional complications.
Treatment typically focuses on inflammation, autoimmunity, vascular issues and tissue fibrosis (the thickening and scarring of the connective tissue that surrounds the internal organs).
Your treatment may include some or all of the following:
- Getting pain relief through nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroids
- Easing skin itchiness with skin lotions and moisturizers
- Slowing skin thickening and minimizing damage to the internal organs with medication that suppresses the immune system
- Maintaining muscle strength through physical therapy and exercise
- Managing digestive tract function to optimize nutritional intake
- Controlling blood pressure and improving blood flow with medication
- Treating specific symptoms such as heartburn and Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Improving emotional state through counseling and other measures
Surgery may be an option if the complications can’t be resolved with less invasive therapies. For example, if you develop ulcers on your fingers and those ulcers lead to gangrene, it might be necessary to amputate parts of a finger.
Whatever treatment is chosen, the doctor should discuss the benefits, risks and side effects.
Your Scleroderma Support Team
Scleroderma can impact many important aspects of life, which makes it critical for you to have a reliable team of people to help manage challenges. At different points in time, patients might want support from members of the family and friends or from specialists such as a physical therapist or a personal assistant.
Because scleroderma can change your appearance and make it difficult to do everyday tasks, it might cause stress and worry more than usual. As stress can impact the severity of the disease, it’s important to learn techniques for coping with this condition. Doctors often use a referral to a counselor or a scleroderma support group.
The Long-Term Prognosis for Scleroderma
Many scleroderma patients, even those with more invasive systemic scleroderma, can expect to have a normal life expectancy. But to remain as healthy as possible, you need to be open with the doctor about how you feel. The doctor should monitor your health closely and deal quickly with any complications that arise.
There are a number of specific issues that are important to consider:
- Plateaus. Some patients may have a time when their condition stabilizes. During this time, your skin may improve, and the mobility could increase. This could be a short-term change or might even go into long-term remission.
- Monitoring. Patients with systemic scleroderma should be screened regularly to monitor for internal organ complications.
- Pregnancy. Patients can get pregnant; however, there likely is a higher chance of miscarrying. During pregnancy, some of the symptoms (such as Raynaud phenomenon) might get better, but others (such as heartburn) could get worse.