Systemic scleroderma or Systemic sclerosis is an autoimmune or connective tissue disease. An autoimmune disease usually arises due to an inappropriate immune response from the human body, against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In this case, the body attacks the fibers that provide the framework and support for your body.
It is characterized by thickening of the skin caused by accumulation of collagen, and by injuries to the smallest arteries. There are two overlapping forms. Limited cutaneous scleroderma is limited to the skin on the face, hands and feet. Diffuse cutaneous scleroderma covers more of the skin, and is at risk of progressing to the visceral organs, including the kidneys; heart, lungs and gastrointestinal tract are affected.
Signs and Symptoms of Systemic Scleroderma
Symptoms may vary between patients, and depending on which part of the body is involved.
- Skin: The affected area will appear shiny because of the hardened and tight skin. SS also causes scarring. The skin may appear reddish or scaly and blood vessels may also be more visible. The Patient can experience severe and recurrent itching as well.
- Fingers or toes: One of the earliest signs of scleroderma is an exaggerated response to cold temperatures or emotional distress, which can cause numbness, spasms, pain or color changes in the fingers or toes, called Raynaud’s phenomenon. Systemic scleroderma and Raynaud’s can cause painful ulcers on the fingers or toes which are known as digital ulcers.
- Digestive system: In addition to acid reflux, which can damage the section of esophagus nearest the stomach, some people with scleroderma may also have issues absorbing nutrients if their intestinal muscles aren’t due to constipation problems, moving food properly through the intestines.
- Vital organs: Rarely, scleroderma can affect the function of the heart, lungs or kidneys. These problems can become life-threatening and lead to heart failure.
Treatment for Systemic Scleroderma
There a no cure for SS. In some cases, the skin problems associated with scleroderma fade away on their own in three to five years. The type of scleroderma that affects internal organs usually worsens with time, but you can manage this condition at home by
- Staying active. Exercising will help keep your body flexible, improves circulation and relieves stiffness. Range-of-motion exercises can help keep your skin and joints flexible.
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine causes blood vessels to contract, making Raynaud’s phenomenon worse. Smoking can also cause permanent narrowing of your blood vessels.
- Manage heartburn. Avoid foods that give you heartburn or gas. Also avoid late-night meals. Elevate the head of your bed to keep stomach acid from backing up into your esophagus as you sleep. Antacids may help relieve symptoms.
- Protect yourself from the cold. Wear warm mittens for protection anytime your hands are exposed to cold — even when you reach into a freezer. When you’re outside in the cold, cover your face and head and wear layers of warm clothing.
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