How is Scleroderma Diagnosed?

Scleroderma symptoms can be similar to other diseases, which sometimes makes diagnosis difficult. Because no specific diagnostic test is currently available to confirm scleroderma, doctors reach a diagnose by conducting physical exams, evaluating the patient’s medical history, ordering laboratory tests, and reviewing X-rays. Doctors may also require patients to seek consultations with specialists including rheumatologists and dermatologists.

Careful clinical evaluation of medical imaging tests are helpful when monitoring scleroderma. Bone abnormalities are found with X-rays and computerized tomography (CT) scans. Thermography can be used to detect differences in skin temperature (skin lesions have a higher temperature than regular skin). Ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be important to assess soft tissue.

Scleroderma symptoms that the doctor will look for include:

  • Raynaud’s phenomenon: this refers to skin color changes that occur in fingers and toes when exposed to cold temperatures because of reduced blood flow in the extremities. Raynaud’s can also cause finger swelling, numbness, pain, skin ulcers, pale skin, and gangrene on the fingers and toes. It is one of the earliest signs of the disease – more than 90 percent of scleroderma patients have Raynaud’s phenomenon. However, some Raynaud’s patients do not have scleroderma.
  • Skin thickening, swelling, and tightening: the skin becomes thick, glossy, unusually dark, or lighter. The patient’s personal appearance can be significantly altered, especially in the face.
  • Enlarged red blood vessels in the hands, face, and around nail beds (telangiectasias).
  • Calcium deposits in the skin or other areas.
  • High blood pressure from kidney problems caused by the disease.
  • Heartburn caused by stomach acid refluxing back into the esophagus.
  • Other health issues involving the digestive tract: can include difficulty swallowing food, bloating and constipation. Patients may also have problems absorbing food, which can lead to weight loss.
  • Shortness of breath: (dyspnea) caused by lung involvement.
  • Joint pain.


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.