What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a connective tissue disease (also called ‘collage vascular disease’). In Greek, the word “scleros” means “hard”. So, the term ‘scleroderma’ means, “hardened skin”. This term is coined to signify only the most characteristic visible feature of this disease. Actually, scleroderma involves many organs like lungs, digestive system, joints, kidney etc. The involvement of these internal organs is infact, the most serious and devastating consequence of scleroderma.
What happens in scleroderma?
Like many rheumatological diseases, scleroderma is an autoimmune disease wherein the connective tissue is abnormal and leads to tightening of skin, tendons and injury to small blood vessels.
What are the symptoms and signs of scleroderma?
Scleroderma has several subtypes and the signs and symptoms vary accordingly. Patient may initially notice bluish or bluish-white coloring of tips of fingers on exposure to cold (eg., when using refrigerator). Such bluish coloring may disappear once the hands are warmed. Some patients may notice hardening of skin, difficulty in opening mouth, increasingly shiny skin etc. Usually, many have complaints of joint pains and tightness of fingers due to skin tightening making it difficult to fold fingers and make a fist. Those with involvement of digestive system have difficulty in swallowing, increased burping, a sensation of fullness of stomach, reduced hunger etc. There may be cough, breathlessness, chest pain in patients with lungs and cardiac involvement.
How is scleroderma diagnosed?
The diagnostic process of scleroderma involves consultation with a rheumatologist and physician. A detailed analysis of symptoms and signs of the patient along with a few specific blood tests help to establish the diagnosis.
How is scleroderma treated?
Scleroderma requires treatment depending on the assessment of organ involvement. The medications usually consist of a combination of immunosuppressive drugs and drugs which act on blood vessels. In addition, measures to avoid exposure to cold, avoidance of trauma to the extremities are very important.