Published by Steve Hedberg on July 21, 2009 Under arthritis

Scleroderma is a type of arthritis that is classified as an autoimmune disease, which affects connective tissues. Scleroderma is not actually a single disease, but instead refers to a number of similar disorders that affect the skin, as well as other organs in the body.

One of the main characteristics of scleroderma is the thickening of the skin, which results in very tight and hard tissue. However, depending on the type of scleroderma present, it may instead primarily affect blood vessels or organs.

Types of Scleroderma

While there are a number of different types of scleroderma, the disease can be classified as either localized scleroderma or systemic sclerosis.

Localized Scleroderma

Localized Scleroderma is typically mostly affects only the skin. In morphea scleroderma, the skin hardens forming oval shaped patches. In linear scleroderma, the hardened skin forms lines and becomes discolored, often affecting the legs, arms, and forehead.

Systemic Sclerosis

Systemic Sclerosis usually effects both the skin, as well as the organs and is divided into three groups. In limited scleroderma, the disease slowly begins to affect the skin in only a specific area. Overtime, it can spread to affect the body’s organs. Diffuse scleroderma, on the other hand, develops much more rapidly and over a much larger area of the body. In Sine scleroderma, the skin is not affected at all, but instead the internal organs are afffected.

Doctors have developed an acronym, CREST, to describe how the symptoms of systemic sclerosis typically develop. CREST stands for:

  • Calcinosis – Which refers to the development of calcium deposits inside of connective tissues.
  • Raynad’s Phenomenon – Which refers to the way small blood vessels begin to contrict when cold or stressed.
  • Esophageal Dysfunction – Which refers to the failure of of the body’s esophagus to properly operate
  • Sclerodactyly – Which refers to how the skin on the toes and fingers will begin to become tigheter, thicker, and shiny.
  • Telangiectasias – Which refers to tiny red colored spots that begin to form on the face and hands.

Diagnosing and Treating Scleroderma

While most people who have scleroderma test positive for antinuclear antibodies, there is no single test for scleroderma. Usually the doctor will preform a number of tests to rule out other similar diseases, as well as examining the skin of the individual.

There is no treatment for the effects that scleroderma has on the skin, but medication is usually used to treat the other effects that scleroderma has on the body, such as kidney problems, hypertension, and heartburn. Even though scleroderma is classified as an autoimmune disorder, the medications used to treat other arthritis autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis, are not effective at treating scleroderma.

People of any age can develop scleroderma, although it is more common in women who are 30 to 50 years old.

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