Symptoms of scleroderma

Symptoms of scleroderma

Although the cause of scleroderma is unkwon, it is known that scleroderma is the result of an overproduction and accumulation of collagen in body tissues. Collagen is a fibrous type of protein that makes up your body's connective tissues, including your skin. It is not certain yet what causes this over production of collagen but the body's immune system seems to play a role. Scleroderma is partially associated with genetic factors, which means that people with this condition have ancestors presenting other kinds of autoimmune diseases. Researchers have found that in some genetically susceptible people, symptoms may be triggered by exposure to certain viruses or types of pesticides, epoxy resins or solvents, which damage the inner lining of tiny blood vessels and cause injuries to tissues that result in scar formation and the accumulation of excess collagen.

Scleroderma affects women more often than men and most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. It is important to pay attention to the symptoms so that the patient can start with treatment and improve his/her quality of life.

Depending on which body part is involved, and if organs are also affected, the scleroderma symptoms may be different.

Skin: Typical symptoms are hardening and tightening of patches of skin. The patches may have the shape of an oval or straight lines, or cover wide areas of the trunk and limbs. The number, location and size of the patches vary by type of scleroderma. Another sypmtom is that the skin appears shiny, this is due to the fact that the skin becomes very tight so that movement of that body part can even be restricted.

Damaged blood vessels in fingers, toes, face, neck, ears: At the beginning, these body parts respond to cold or emotional distress causing numbness, pain or color changes (white, blue, red). These color changes are symptoms of an illness called Raynaud's disease. These body parts become inflamed (redness, swelling, tenderness, itching and pain) and as a consequence skin becomes tight or hard. Further, the mobility in those parts may decrease. Sometimes calcinosis (tiny areas of calcification) can be seen as hard nodules are the tips of the elbows, knees, fingers and over joints. It is important to mention that Raynaud's disease can appear alone (without scleroderma) causing problems with oxygen's supply to the aboved mentioned body parts. This leads to tiny ulcers or dad skin (dark or blackened skin color).

Intern organs: Some patients present acid reflux, which damages the esophagus (near the stomach) and others present problems absorbing nutrients due to a low function of the intestinal muscles in charge of moving food properly through the intestines. The symptom known as „watermelon stomach“ (telangiectasias) can present a serious risk of bleeding and requires medical attention by a gatroenterologist. If elevated blood pressure is present there is a very high risk of kidney damage. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, and in severe cases, stroke. In this case it is vital that the blood pressure must be constantly controlled. The lungs may be inflamed in scleroderma and this can cause scarring, which results in shortness of breath specially while doing sports or stressing the body. Pulmonary hypertension (high pressure in the lungs' arteries) can also cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing while exercising or moving more than usual. Scleroderma affects the heart leading to a damage in the heart muscle, irregular heart rhythmus, abnormal electrical activity of the heart and pericarditis, which is the inflammation around the heart. Scleroderma involvement in the colon (large bowel) causes constipation but it can also cause cramping and diarrhea. If the condition becomes severe, it can cause a complete stool blockage.

Due to the fact that scleroderma damages the blood vessels it is crucial to completely avoid smoking cigarettes. It is important to mention that there is no universal medicine found yet to effectively heal scleroderma. If scleroderma is mild it may not require treatment but if the disease is severe, it can lead to death if left untreated. In any case an appropriate healthy diet, taking natural supplements, drinking enough water and exercising properly leads to a healthy life and will make it easier to control diseases or easily cope with them.