The word “scleroderma” comes from two Greek words — “sclero” means hard and “derma” means skin. It is not a contagious, infectious, cancerous, or malignant disease.
Scleroderma’s exact cause is still not known by scientists, although it is understood that the onset and progression of the disease involve an overproduction of collagen. Genetic factors may play some role in the disease, but exposure to certain chemicals may also be a factor. Understanding the pathogenesis (development) of the disease is quite complicated. Researchers have found a susceptibility gene that could raise the likelihood of developing scleroderma, but the gene does not cause the disease. On the other hand, many people with scleroderma have no history of exposure to any chemicals that may have caused it.
Symptoms of scleroderma vary among patients and the disease can range from very mild to life threatening, depending on which parts of the body are affected and its progression to internal organs. A mild case can become serious if not treated properly.
There are two main types of scleroderma. Localized scleroderma usually affects the skin, although it can spread to the muscles, joints and bones. Systemic scleroderma, which is the most serious form, affects the skin, muscles, joints, blood vessels, lungs, kidneys, heart, and other organs.
Localized scleroderma is more common in children, whereas systemic scleroderma is more common in adults. Women are diagnosed four times more frequently than men — onset occurs typically between the ages of 25 and 55.
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