Scleroderma, an autoimmune condition, is marked by thickening and hardening of the skin and various other tissues. It can either be localized, which mainly affects the skin and blood vessels, or systemic with damage to internal organs as well.
In most cases, patches of thickened or discolored skin are first signals of potential disease. Analyzing samples through a skin biopsy can help to establish an initial diagnosis of scleroderma.
What is a skin biopsy
A skin biopsy is a procedure where a sample of skin is taken directly from an affected site. Although the procedure causes a small wound, it is generally safe and has a quick recovery time. This skin sample is then analyzed in a laboratory to determine the cause of the symptoms.
Types of skin biopsy
There are various types of skin biopsy, which remove different amounts of skin:
- Shave biopsies remove only the top layer of the affected skin. Although bleeding may occur, the wound does not need much care.
- Incision biopsies require the affected area to be cut out, causing a larger wound. Stitches or other methods are used to close the wound, and the patient usually needs another doctor visit to make sure that the wound is healing properly and likely remove the stitches.
- Punch biopsies remove a circle of skin tissue, down to the first layer of fat beneath the skin. Though deeper than a shave biopsy, it is small and precise, and generally requires little care.
All biopsies are done using a local anesthetic, injected at the biopsy site to prevent pain. Recovery time is short and lasting damage is quite rare.
Skin biopsies for scleroderma
A punch biopsy is most likely if scleroderma is suspected. It can reveal the presence of calcium deposits under the skin, changes in skin blood vessels, and excessive collagen in thickened skin, all symptoms associated with scleroderma.
Still, a skin biopsy is limited to identifying the presence or absence of scleroderma. It cannot determine whether the patient’s scleroderma is localized to the skin, or systemic and present throughout the body. Other diagnostic tools or approaches are needed as a follow-up if the skin biopsy suggests scleroderma.
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