Scleroderma is a term used to describe a serious condition characterized by the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissue. While most individuals suffering from scleroderma experience a variety of symptoms in different location throughout the body, a few only present skin related symptoms. While there is currently no cure for scleroderma, many treatments are available to help curb symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life.
Susan A, Baker, MD, FACR provides individualized treatment for patients afflicted with scleroderma. From her Beverly Hills practice, Dr. Baker is able to provide compassionate and comprehensive care for a variety of connective tissue and musculoskeletal conditions.
Causes and Symptoms of Scleroderma
As a rheumatological condition, scleroderma is the result of an overproduction and accumulation of collagen in bodily tissues. All bodily tissue, including the skin, consists of collagen, a natural fibrous type of protein. In individuals with scleroderma, the body’s immune system malfunctions, producing inflammation and an overproduction of collagen. Signs and symptoms of scleroderma will vary depending on their location and severity. The most common symptoms reported by individuals with scleroderma include, but are not limited to:
Skin – Hardening or tightening of patches of the skin is the most common symptom of scleroderma. The skin will often appear shiny in the affected region, which can be oval or line shaped. The size, number, and location of these patches will vary from patient to patient.
Joints – Nonspecific joint pain and stiffness is an early sign of scleroderma. Though these pains can occur anywhere on the body, they are most common in the knees, ankles, wrists, and elbows.
Fingers and Toes – Patients with scleroderma often experience an exaggerated sensitivity to cold temperatures and emotional distress. Due to this, pain, numbness, or color changes in the fingers and toes are relatively common. This can also be referred to as Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Digestive System – The inability of intestinal muscles to move food along properly is also common in individuals with scleroderma. Thus, many of these patients also have difficulties absorbing nutrients from food. In addition, many patients also suffer from acid reflux.
Heart, Lungs, or Kidneys – In some rare cases, scleroderma can begin to affect the function of your heart, lungs, and kidneys. These problems can become life-threatening if left untreated.
If you are currently experiencing symptoms similar to the ones outlined here, please seek professional medical attention immediately. Scleroderma that is left untreated can cause permanent internal organ damage and can be potentially life threatening.
Scleroderma Treatment Options
Although scleroderma is still incurable, a variety of treatment options are available to help manage symptoms associated with the condition. Drugs for scleroderma treatment can:
- Dilate the blood vessels. Dilating the blood vessels with blood pressure medications can prevent lung and kidney complications and help curb Raynaud’s disease.
- Suppress the immune system. Scleroderma is caused by an overactive immune system that begins attacking healthy tissues. Suppressing this responsiveness in the immune system leads to a reduction in symptoms.
- Reduce stomach acid. Medications like Prilosec can help reduce acid reflux and digestive symptoms associated with scleroderma.
- Prevent infections. Routine influenza and pneumonia vaccinations are useful for protecting the lungs from damage. In addition, antibiotic ointments can prevent ulcers on the fingertips from becoming infected.
- Relieve pain. Many individuals can manage their pain with simple over-the-counter medications. If your pain is severe and debilitating, your physician can prescribe stronger pain medications.
How is Scleroderma Diagnosed?
Blood tests, tissue samples, pulmonary function tests, CT scans, and echocardiograms all help doctors diagnose scleroderma.
Who is at Risk for Developing Scleroderma?
Although scleroderma can happen at any age, it is most commonly reported in individuals in mid-life. It is four to five times more common in women than in men.
How Much Will Scleroderma Treatment Cost?
Every individual is different, and each course of treatment will vary accordingly. If you have specific question regarding cost of your scleroderma treatment, contact a rheumatologist or internal medicine doctor.
To learn more about scleroderma skin treatment, visit WebMD.com.
Contact Beverly Hills Rheumatologist and Internal Medicine Specialist Today
Susan A. Baker is a rheumatologist and internal medicine specialist with experience in treating individuals with scleroderma. From her Beverly Hills practice, Dr. Baker helps individuals just like you manage their symptoms and live life to the fullest. If you would like to schedule a one-on-one consultation or address any specific question you may have, contact Dr. Baker at (310) 274-7770.
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