What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the skin. Also known as systemic sclerosis, this skin disease is common among women aged 25 to 55.
Its main symptom is the hardening of the skin coupled with thick, fibrous tissue replacing normal tissue. Even though the disease affects the skin, it can manifest itself in the heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys, digestive system, muscles, and joints.
What causes scleroderma?
Scleroderma develops when your immune system attacks your skin’s connective tissue, causing scarring and thickening of your skin.
In essence, the immune system triggers the excess production of collagen that later deposits under the skin and other vital organs, causing thickening and hardening.
Scientists are yet to establish the reasons behind the immune system attacking the skin’s connective tissue. However, different findings indicate the disease results from various genetic and environmental factors.
Is scleroderma hereditary?
Like most autoimmune diseases, it is not uncommon for scleroderma to run in the family. One family member could have multiple sclerosis, while another might have lupus or scleroderma. A third family member could be a thyroid disease patient.
Fortunately, the risk of developing scleroderma is low. However, the disease seems prevalent among Choctaw Native Americans in Oklahoma.
With this in mind, patients must share their family histories with their doctors to help determine the correct diagnosis.
What causes shortness of breath in scleroderma?
Shortness of breath is one of the symptoms of scleroderma. Most people with scleroderma often complain of difficulty in breathing.
As you already know, scleroderma affects not only the skin but also other parts and organs, including the lungs, muscles, and heart.
Potential causes of shortness of breath in scleroderma patients include:
- High blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension)
- Scarring of the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis)
- Muscle weakness or deconditioning
- Valvular heart disease
- Diastolic dysfunction
- Systolic dysfunction
- Coronary artery disease
Easing pain and fatigue in your joints
Scleroderma can result in multiple complications such as anemia, Sjogren’s disease, thyroid disease, inflammatory arthritis, and sleep apnea. These complications can lead to pain and fatigue in the joints.
It is essential to discuss your symptoms with your physician or healthcare provider. Knowing the exact cause of the fatigue can help you manage the pain accordingly. Possible relief options include medications and physiotherapy.
Why does scleroderma cause gastrointestinal issues?
Some people with scleroderma might complain of a funny feeling in their guts. Gastrointestinal involvement is a common occurrence with this condition, but the symptoms vary from patient to patient.
Here are some of the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with scleroderma:
- Acid reflux disease
- Episodic diarrhea caused by bacterial growth
- Fecal incontinence from fibrosis of the anal sphincter
- Gastroparesis (the stomach moving food slowly)
- Bloating and feeling full
- Swallowing problems
- Impairment of the esophageal muscles
Is scleroderma easy to diagnose?
Scleroderma is not easy to diagnose since it has striking similarities with other conditions. Moreover, it might be challenging to tell if the disease is systemic sclerosis if it manifests itself on the internal body organs rather than the skin.
Sharing your symptoms and family history with your healthcare provider can go a long way in helping diagnose the disease correctly.