Scleroderma (say: “sclare-oh-DER-muh”) is a chronic (ongoing) disease that affects the skin and may also affect internal organs in some people. Scleroderma causes the body to produce too much collagen. Collagen is a protein that makes up connective tissues, such as the skin. Too much collagen can make the skin stretch, harden and thicken, and can also cause damage to internal organs, such as the heart, lungs and kidneys.
There are 2 types of scleroderma: localized and systemic. Localized scleroderma affects the skin only. Systemic scleroderma affects blood vessels and internal organs, as well as the skin.
Anyone can have scleroderma, but women are more likely to develop it. Systemic scleroderma is more common in African-Americans and some Native Americans.
There are 2 types of localized scleroderma:
There are 2 types of systemic scleroderma:
Doctors don’t know what causes scleroderma. It is an autoimmune disease. Normally, antibodies produced by the immune system help protect the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances. If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system produces antibodies that attack your body's tissues and/or organs.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. He or she will perform a physical examination and look for any changes in the appearance of your skin. Your doctor may want to remove a tiny sample of your skin (biopsy) to examine it under a microscope. He or she may also order a blood test to check for antibodies that suggest scleroderma, or other tests to see if any internal organs have been affected.
There is no cure for scleroderma. Localized scleroderma sometimes goes away on its own. Treatment usually focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing more damage to the skin and organs. Your doctor will choose the right treatment for you depending on your symptoms. If scleroderma is causing damage to internal organs, your doctor may work with other specialists to treat your condition. For example, if scleroderma is affecting your heart, your doctor may want to work closely with a cardiologist.
Your doctor may also recommend physical or occupational therapy to help you manage the pain.
Cosmetic surgery can sometimes help minimize the effects of scleroderma on your skin.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff