Scleroderma describes a cluster of rare autoimmune diseases that involve the tightening and hardening of connective tissues (fibers that provide the support and framework for your body) and skin. This complex disease affects not only the skin, but also your internal organs, blood vessels, and your GI tract.
This disease affects women more than men, and the onset for symptoms typically happens between the ages of 30 and 50.
What causes Scleroderma?
Scleroderma occurs due to an increased accumulation of collagen in your body's tissue. The immune system plays a role in this disease due to the immune system waging a war against your body. This is what produces the overproduction of collagen and inflammation.
Symptoms of Scleroderma vary based on what parts of the body are afflicted with the disease.
Symptoms of Scleroderma
On the skin:
-Skin tightening and hardening (in patches)
-Patches on skin might be oval in shape, or in straight lines.
-Shiny skin in the affected area.
-Restricted movement due to the tightening of skin.
Toes and Fingers:
-An exaggeration in response to cold temperatures.
-Numbness in fingers and toes
-Pain in fingers and toes
-Discoloration in fingers and toes
-Trouble with absorbing nutrients in the intestines.
-If the kidney, heart, or lungs are affected by Scleroderma, the situation may become life-threatening.
How is Scleroderma diagnosed?
Because this disease impacts so many areas of the body, it can be a challenge to properly diagnose.
Your doctor will examine you and send you for blood work. Your doctor will be looking for elevated levels of specific antibodies that the immune system produces. A small biopsy of the affected skin area may be tested for abnormalities.
Breathing tests, CT Scan, and an echocardiogram may be ordered by your doctor as well.
How is Scleroderma treated?
This illness is a challenge to treat, but it is not impossible. In cases of Scleroderma on the skin, the issue will fade away within 3 to 5 years. If your internal organs are affected by Scleroderma, it may get worse over time.
There are some medications that may help alleviate symptoms of Scleroderma:
-Blood pressure medications
-Stomach acid reducers (Prilosec)
-Antibiotic ointment for symptoms of Raynaud's Phenomenon (this illness, and my experience with it, will be discussed tomorrow).
Your doctor may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with pain management, mobility, and strengthening. This will help with gaining back independence.
In cases of Scleroderma complications, surgery may be required as a last resort.
Just like with other chronic illnesses, living with Scleroderma can affect your emotional and mental health. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your illness, contact your doctor for additional resources.
While I don't have this specific autoimmune disease, I have others. I know how challenging it can be to live with a chronic illness. Unless someone has been there, they cannot possibly understand what we go through.
On the flip side, we need to both educate ourselves, and those around us, of our illnesses. The more we know, they will know. We need to keep our loved ones at our side. One of the most important parts of living with chronic pain and/or chronic illness is to not isolate. Isolating oneself is the worst thing to do. I did it and it was not fun trying to tell my friends what I was going through. I also had to kick people out of my life because they would mock me. Sometimes you have to make those decisions. Right now, the most important thing is YOUR HEALTH. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't be there for the ones you love.