Scleroderma is the name given to a group of conditions characterized by the hardening of the skin and connective tissues. Although scleroderma mostly affects the skin, it also can harm blood vessels, internal organs, and the digestive tract.

Scleroderma patients with digestive tract involvement may experience symptoms such as heartburn, difficulty swallowing, a feeling of fullness, and intestinal complaints such as diarrhea, constipation, and gas.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most common symptoms that can develop into a chronic condition in scleroderma. GERD is characterized by the backup of stomach acid into the esophagus when the muscles of the lower esophageal sphincter (those found between the esophagus and stomach) are too weak to close correctly. As a result, stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of the esophagus causing a burning sensation commonly known as heartburn or acid indigestion.

How esophageal dysfunction is assessed

A gastroenterology specialist can examine the esophagus and stomach with an endoscope to assess whether they are affected by scleroderma.

Tests such as esophageal manometry and gastric emptying scan also can be used to measure the strength of muscle contraction and assess to what extent the muscles used for digestion are affected by scleroderma.

Finally, X-rays and contrast dies can be used to visualize the digestive tract to assess the effect of scleroderma on the digestive system.

How gastrointestinal problems caused by esophageal dysfunction are treated

Some of the non-pharmacological measures that can be taken to reduce or avoid gastrointestinal symptoms caused by esophageal dysfunction include eating small and frequent meals, avoiding spicy or fatty foods, alcohol and caffeine, standing or sitting for at least one hour after eating so that the stomach content does not back up into the esophagus, and keeping the head of the bed raised when sleeping.

Exercise, such as walking, can help move food through the digestive tract, easing the symptoms of constipation. So can eating a diet high in fiber with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and increasing fluid intake.

Pharmacological measures to deal with gastrointestinal problems associated with scleroderma include antacids, proton-pump inhibitors, and H2-blockers for heartburn and reflux, bismuth subsalicylate or loperamide for diarrhea, and laxatives for constipation.

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Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.