The millions of cells that make up your body are held together by connective tissue. It ‘connects’, or supports and holds together your joints, muscles, internal organs, skin and other body tissues.
The connective tissue of people with scleroderma has too much collagen, which causes it to become hard and tight. Scleroderma literally means ‘hard skin’.
Scleroderma is a chronic condition that results from a malfunctioning immune system.
Your immune system is designed to identify foreign bodies (e.g. bacteria and viruses) and attack them to keep you healthy. However in the case of scleroderma, your immune system mistakenly attacks your healthy tissue. Your cells start making too much collagen as if there’s an injury that needs repair.
Anyone can develop scleroderma, but it’s more common between the ages of 30 and 60, and is more common in females.
Scleroderma isn’t contagious. It can be mild, moderate or severe. There’s no cure, but it’s possible to successfully manage the symptoms.
There are two broad classifications of scleroderma based on the amount of skin and other organs affected.
The symptoms vary from person to person, and will depend on the type of scleroderma you have.
Symptoms can include:
We don’t know what causes the immune system to malfunction, however it appears that your genes may play a role.
There’s no specific test for scleroderma, so your doctor will use a range of medical tests including physical examinations, blood tests and tissue biopsies to reach a diagnosis.
While there’s currently no cure for scleroderma, treatment can help ease your symptoms. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your unique set of symptoms.
Steroid creams applied to your skin may be prescribed for localised scleroderma. A range of other anti-inflammatory medications may also be prescribed to help control your inflammation. You may be prescribed medications that will suppress your immune system, to help control the overactivity and reduce inflammation and other symptoms.
As well as seeing your GP, you will likely see a skin specialist (dermatologist) or a specialist in joint and muscle conditions (rheumatologist) regularly. Other healthcare providers such as immunologists, respiratory physicians and gastroenterologists may take part in your ongoing treatment.
There are things you can do to manage your scleroderma including:
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This information has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Musculoskeletal Australia