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What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma which literally means "hard skin" is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. Scleroderma is under the same category as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren's syndrome.

Scleroderma can cause thickening and tightening of the skin. In some cases, it can cause serious damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, esophagus and gastrointestinal tract (GI).

The severity of scleroderma varies between individuals. For some people, scleroderma is not very serious. For others, the disease can be life-threatening.

Scleroderma is not contagious, or cancerous.

What causes Scleroderma?

The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown. Researchers are still working to determine the cause.

Types of Scleroderma

There are two main types of scleroderma: systemic scleroderma, and localized scleroderma.

Systemic Scleroderma

In Systemic Scleroderma, also called systemic sclerosis, the immune system causes damage to the small blood vessels and the collagen-producing cells located in the skin and throughout the body.

In Systemic Scleroderma, the small blood vessels in the fingers are often narrow. The narrowness causes cuts on the hands and fingers to heal slowly. Sometimes the blood channel is completely closed off. In severe cases, ulcers form on the hands and fingers.

People with Systemic Scleroderma are usually cold-sensitive. The small blood vessels and the decreased blood supply causes the cold sensitivity. Systemic Scleroderma patients also have problems with their heart, lungs and gastrointestinal tract. These problems occur because scar tissue builds up in the skin and other organs for no reason. The scar tissue interferes with the normal activity of the organ.

Localized Scleroderma

Localized Scleroderma affects the collagen-producing cells in just some areas of the body, and usually does not affect the internal organs and blood vessels.

Localized Scleroderma can be seen as patches of thick skin or as a line of thick skin. The line ay extend down a leg or arm.

How is Scleroderma Treated?

Currently, there is no cure for scleroderma. Treatment varies from patient to patient.

Scleroderma Statistics

  • Localized Scleroderma is more common in children.
  • Systemic Scleroderma is more common in adults.
  • Female patients outnumber male patients about 4 to 1.
  • Most patients are diagnosed between that ages of 40 and 49.
  • 95% of Scleroderma patients have Raynaud's Phenomenon.
  • Autoimmune diseases affect about 50 million Americans

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