Systemic Sclerosis - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Systemic sclerosis, also known as scleroderma, is an autoimmune disease, a condition in which your own body attacks healthy cells and damages them. During an autoimmune reaction, your body perceives its own part as a foreign particle and launches an immune response against it. It is a lifelong condition that needs to be managed properly. Until now, there is no cure for it. 


It causes changes in skin textures and appearance due to increased collagen production. However, it is not confined to skin only. It can also affect different organs like;


  • blood vessels

  • digestive system

  • lungs

  • kidneys

  • muscles

  • heart


Features of systemic sclerosis can occur in other autoimmune disorders as well. When it happens, it is called a mixed connective disorder. Usually, it occurs in old-aged people but can occur at any age. The severity of signs and symptoms varies from person to person because of the organs affected. Women are more diagnosed with systemic sclerosis as compared to men. 


Symptoms 


In the early stages, systemic sclerosis affects the skin causing thickening and shining of skin. As the condition progresses, the movement of the affected area is affected. Other symptoms it may cause are;


  • small dilated blood vessels under the skin

  • calcium deposits, or white lumps under the skin

  • difficulty swallowing

  • esophageal reflux

  • abdominal bloating after meals

  • joint pain

  • shortness of breath

  • a dry cough

  • diarrhea

  • constipation

  • hair loss


It also causes Raynaud's phenomenon- a condition when spasms occur in your blood vessels, causing your extremities to turn white and blue upon expsoure to cold or emotional stress. 


CREST syndrome


Systemic sclerosis causes CREST syndrome, also called limited systemic sclerosis that involves peripheral tissues. It is named according to the symptoms it causes. CREST stands for;


  • C-calcinosis

  • R-Raynaud’s phenomenon

  • E-esophageal dysmotility

  • S-sclerodactyly

  • T-telangiectasia


Causes


Systemic sclerosis occurs due to excess collagen- the structural protein deposit on your skin. However, the exact cause of it is unknown. 


Treatment 


Until now, there is no such cure for systemic sclerosis. But the symptoms can be managed symptomatically. Treatment may depend upon the symptoms. For generalized symptoms, the healthcare providers may prescribe;


  • corticosteroids

  • immunosuppressants, such as methotrexate 

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs


Other treatment may involve;


  • Blood pressure medication that helps control elevated blood pressure

  • Light therapy like ultraviolet A1 phototherapy help keep skin healthy

  • Nitroglycerin ointment to treat localized areas of tightening of the skin

  • Medications that aid breathing due to lung problems causes

  • Physical therapy that prevents Raynaud’s phenomenon


Other lifestyle changes that can help you stay healthy with scleroderma are;


  • Exercise regularly

  • Eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables.

  • Do not smoke. Also, avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.

  • Maintain healthy body weight.

  • Avoid foods that trigger heartburn.


Complications 


Systemic sclerosis can cause the following complications;


  • Kidney failure

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart failure

  • Cancer


Conclusion 


Systemic sclerosis, also known as scleroderma, is an autoimmune disease- a condition in which your own body attacks healthy cells and damages them. It causes changes in skin textures and appearance due to increased collagen production. However, it is not confined to the skin only. It can also affect different organs.


Doctors For Systemic Sclerosis

Doctors for Systemic Sclerosis in Different Cities