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Scleroderma: What You Need to Know

  • Scleroderma is actually a group of diseases with a common symptom: hardening and tightening of skin.

  • There are two primary types of scleroderma: localized scleroderma and systemic scleroderma (also known as systemic sclerosis).

  • Sometimes, scleroderma only affects the skin, but in the systemic form, it can also cause harm to the internal organs, such as blood vessels and digestive tracts.

  • Scleroderma affects significantly more women than men and is typically diagnosed in people between the ages of 30 and 50.

  • Treatment of scleroderma is based primarily on a person’s individual symptoms.

What is scleroderma?

Scleroderma comes from the Greek words “skleros,” and “derma,” meaning “hard skin.” With scleroderma, the body overproduces collagen, the main protein that makes up the skin and connective tissues (the tissues that support the skin and internal organs). This can lead to the hardening and tightening of the skin and those tissues.

Sometimes scleroderma only affects the skin, which is called localized scleroderma. But it can also cause significant internal harm to the tissues that support the skin, as well as to the organs (lung, heart, GI tract), which is called systemic sclerosis.

Scleroderma is a rheumatic disease, which means you may have inflammation, pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, muscles and/or tissues. It’s also an autoimmune disease. Normally, the immune system protects against disease. But sometimes, it mistakes healthy cells for sick ones and attacks them. With scleroderma, the body has developed antibodies (blood proteins) that are a manifestation of the autoimmune process.

Scleroderma affects many more women than men, and it’s typically found in people between the ages of 30 and 50. As many as 300,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with scleroderma, and as many as 10,000 die each year from the most serious forms of the disease.

Types of Scleroderma

There are two types of scleroderma: localized and systemic. Localized scleroderma only affects the skin. Systemic scleroderma affects the skin, the blood vessels and the internal organs.

Understand the different types of scleroderma.

Scleroderma Symptoms

Scleroderma symptoms can vary greatly by person. For some, the disease only affects their skin. In others, the impact is much deeper — on blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract.

Learn more about the symptoms of scleroderma.

Scleroderma Risk Factors

The exact causes of scleroderma aren’t known. It is known to be an autoimmune disease that triggers inflammation and tissue fibrosis (scarring).  

Are you at risk of developing scleroderma?

Scleroderma Diagnosis

Many scleroderma symptoms look like those of other conditions. A doctor must review the specific situation and the medical history and send tests to define the exact cause of symptoms.

Learn how scleroderma is diagnosed.

Scleroderma Treatment and Prognosis

There’s no cure for scleroderma, but proper treatment can manage the disease and prevent complications.

Explore treatment options and understand the long-term prognosis for scleroderma.

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