Scleroderma – a Connective Tissue Disorder

Scleroderma, also known as Systemic Sclerosis, is a condition that thickens and hardens connective tissue in your body. Connective tissue is a fiber-like structure that covers the skin and other internal organs such as lungs, heart and kidneys. It is the connective tissue that gives your skin its strength. It is also important in transferring nutrients to the internal organs. Scleroderma commonly affects the skin, especially the face and hand.

What Causes It
The exact cause of the condition is not known. Genetic factors appear to have an important role in causing the disease, as well as environmental factors. Both these elements generate an autoimmune response and damage the connective tissue. If there is scleroderma in the family history, chances of getting other autoimmune disorders is very high. It is more commonly seen in women than in men.

Localized scleroderma affects the connective tissue in the skin. It can be either morphea or linear. It affects the normal movement of joints in the body.

Diffuse scleroderma can affect the connective tissue in any part of the body, including the internal organs.

Signs and Symptoms
Different people exhibit different symptoms. It also depends on the type of scleroderma you have, and the part of the body affected. It affects the connective tissue of the skin causing it to thicken and harden. Involvement of connective tissue around the muscles and joints will result in severe pain. Raynaud’s phenomenon is one of the clinical features seen in patients with scleroderma. In this phenomenon, the connective tissue covering the blood vessels is affected resulting in constriction. Any constriction will lead to restricted or absence of flow of blood to the area involved. This phenomenon is commonly seen in fingers and toes.

Diagnosis and Treatment
No test can diagnose the condition. Your doctor may do a general physical examination and look for the signs and symptoms. Tissue biopsy and blood tests are done to confirm the presence of scleroderma.

No one has been able to find a cure for the condition. Usually, you will be referred to an immunologist or rheumatologist. Your doctor may prescribe a symptomatic treatment, in which your symptoms are treated. As symptoms differ from person to person, the treatment will also differ. During the treatment process, you will also be seen by a gastroenterologist and a dermatologist.

Your doctor may prescribe medications depending on the area of the body affected. Also, you will be advised to stay away from cold weather and to keep yourself warm all the time. This is very important in the management of Raynaud’s phenomenon. Gentle exercises can be done to maintain the mobility of involved joints.

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