4 of the Most Important Questions About Scleroderma

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by Wendy Henderson |

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Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease characterized by an overproduction of collagen that can cause thickening of the skin and fibrosis of internal organs. The severity of the disease varies greatly: some patients experience only mild skin thickening while others suffer organ involvement that can lead to potentially life-threatening diseases like heart disease, kidney failure, pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary fibrosis.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, here are four of the most important questions (and their answers) for anyone who’s been recently diagnosed or knows someone living with scleroderma.

MORE: How scleroderma and pulmonary hypertension are connected.

How common is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a very rare condition. Just 240 people out of every million in the U.S. have the disease and around 19 people in every million will be diagnosed each year. The disease mainly affects women—they are three to four times more likely to develop scleroderma than men. The disease usually strikes in early adulthood, but can occur in children and in later life.

What causes scleroderma?
As with many autoimmune diseases, the exact cause of the condition is unknown. Scientists believe it is a combination of genetics and environmental triggers. You cannot catch scleroderma from anyone, nor can you pass the disease on.

MORE: Seven common misconceptions about scleroderma.

What are the initial symptoms of the disease?
Some of the initial symptoms of scleroderma include:

  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Fatigue
  • Stiff joints
  • Thickened patches of skin
  • Red patches on the skin
  • Calcinosis (small white lumps appearing on the skin)
  • GERD or heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Tight facial skin
  • Digital ulcers
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath

How is scleroderma treated?
There is no cure for scleroderma. Treatment is based on managing the wide-ranging symptoms of the disease. Those with mild scleroderma may not require any treatment, while those with organ involvement may need extensive treatment to slow down the progression of other life-threatening diseases.

MORE: How serious is scleroderma?

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.