What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma also known as Systemic Sclerosis is a chronic disease that causes skin to become thick and hard, causes the buildup of scar tissue and may result in damage to internal organs such as the heart, lungs, stomach and kidneys. The severity of disease varies greatly with most people experiencing mild disease but some present with severe manifestations.

What are the symptoms of Scleroderma?

The most characteristic findings of Scleroderma involve thickening and hardening of the skin usually starting in the fingers and toes. Color changes in the fingers (white or blanched, blue, and finally red) which is associated with pain can occur when exposed to cold which is a condition called Raynaud’s Phenomenon also very common in Scleroderma. Patients may also have significant heartburn, difficult swallowing, bloating and other digestive issues. Manifestations of this condition vary greatly from patient to patient and occasionally patients may experience kidney, lung or heart problems due to this condition.

How is Scleroderma diagnosed?

Scleroderma is often challenging to diagnose in its early stages but becomes easier later on in the disease as more symptoms manifest themselves. While there are no labs that confirm a diagnosis of Scleroderma there are certain blood tests that increase the likelihood of this condition being present. Certain changes in the nail folds can support this diagnosis and there are some imaging studies and other lab tests to support this diagnosis as well. 

What treatments are available for Scleroderma?

While there are some medications that are useful in the management of more severe disease, there is no current medication that has been clearly proven to stop or reverse the key symptom of skin thickening and hardening. Treatment for Scleroderma depends on the specific manifestations of the disease in each patient, such as calcium channel blockers for Raynaud’s Phenomenon, proton pump inhibitors for heartburn, and ACE inhibitors for Hypertension and Kidney Disease associated with Scleroderma.