In some people, scleroderma affects only the skin. But in many people, scleroderma also harms structures beyond the skin — such as blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract. Scleroderma affects women more often than men and most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. There is no cure for scleroderma.
Scleroderma’s signs and symptoms vary, depending on which parts of your body are involved:
Skin. Nearly everyone who has scleroderma experiences a hardening and tightening of patches of skin. These patches may be shaped like ovals or straight lines. The number, location and size of the patches vary by type of scleroderma. Skin can appear shiny because it’s so tight, and movement of the affected area may be restricted.
Fingers or toes. One of the earliest signs of scleroderma is an exaggerated response to cold temperatures or emotional distress, which can cause numbness, pain or color changes in the fingers or toes. Called Raynaud’s phenomenon, this condition also occurs in people who don’t have scleroderma.
Heart, lungs or kidneys. Rarely, scleroderma can affect the function of the heart, lungs or kidneys. These problems can become life-threatening
Medications.No drug has been developed that can stop the underlying process of scleroderma — the overproduction of collagen. But a variety of medications can help control scleroderma symptoms or help prevent complications. To accomplish this, these drugs may:
- Dilate blood vessels.Blood pressure medications that dilate blood vessels may help prevent lung and kidney problems and may help treat Raynaud’s disease.
- Suppress the immune system. Drugs that suppress the immune system, such as those taken after organ transplants, may help reduce scleroderma symptoms.
Reduce stomach acid. Medications such as omeprazole (Prilosec) can relieve symptoms of acid reflux.
- Prevent infections. Antibiotic ointment may help prevent infection of fingertip ulcers caused by Raynaud’s phenomenon. Regular influenza and pneumonia vaccinations can help protect lungs that have been damaged by scleroderma.
Relieve pain. If over-the-counter pain relievers don’t help enough, you can ask your doctor to prescribe stronger medications.
Physical or occupational therapists can help you to:
- Manage pain
- Improve your strength and mobility
- Maintain independence with daily tasks