The name ‘Scleroderma’ literally means hard skin. Scleroderma is a rare chronic, often progressive autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Scleroderma affects the connective tissues of the body (tissues that hold together muscles, joints, blood vessels and internal organs). The connective tissues of people with scleroderma have too much of a protein called ‘collagen’. Collagen is important to give connective tissue its strength, but excess collagen causes hardening and tightening of the affected area.
Who gets Scleroderma?
Scleroderma usually starts between the ages of 25 and 55. Localized scleroderma more commonly starts in childhood, whereas systemic scleroderma is more common in adults. Overall, women outnumber men about 4:1 and the average person is diagnosed in her 40’s.
What Causes Scleroderma?
The cause of scleroderma is not known. We don’t yet know why people’s immune system becomes over-active and initiates excessive production of collagen; but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Types of Scleroderma
There are two major types of scleroderma:
Localized scleroderma (sometimes called ‘morphea’) affects only the skin and sometimes the tissues beneath it (for example, muscle).
Systemic sclerosis also affects the other parts the body, including blood vessels, joints, the digestive system (oesophagus, stomach and bowel), and occasionally the lungs, heart and kidneys. The systemic form has two subtypes: limited scleroderma, including CREST syndrome, where the skin involvement is mainly limited to the hands and there is a lower chance of internal organ involvement, and diffuse scleroderma, in which skin involvement is generalised and organs are often involved.
Symptoms of Scleroderma
Symptoms vary greatly from person to person depending on what part of the body is involved.
Symptoms may include any of the following:
Raynaud’s Phenomenon: The fingers or toes turn white, then blue in the cold, and then red as blood flow returns. This is caused by narrowing of the blood vessels. It is possible to have Raynaud’s without having scleroderma, but most people with scleroderma will have symptoms of Raynaud’s at some time and it’s often one of the first symptoms to appear.
- Thickening and hardening of the skin on the hands, arms and face
- Stiffness and pain in the muscles and/or joints
- Swelling of hands and feet, especially in the morning
- Thinning of the pads at the finger tips
- Small white chalky lumps (calcium deposits) under the skin
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Shortness of breath or reduced ability to exercise
- Kidney problems and high blood pressure
There is no single test for scleroderma, an experienced doctor bases diagnosis primarily on a person’s medical history and a physical examination. However, tests can be helpful in establishing whether other parts of the body are involved.
Tests could include:
- Blood tests
- X-rays and CT scans
- Breathing tests
- A heart scan
- A skin biopsy, where a small piece of skin is removed and examined under a microscope
Natural hints and tips to control scleroderma
Learn about scleroderma: Scleroderma differs from person to person but can be treated effectively, discuss with your doctor and healthcare team your treatment options.
Exercise: One of the best things you can do is to follow a regular exercise regime. It will help to keep your joints flexible and improve blood flow. Your physiotherapist will design a programme to protect your skin and joints.
Manage Raynaud’s phenomenon: Avoid where possible exposure to cold and sudden temperature changes. Keep your whole body warm and protect your hands and feet with gloves and warm socks.
Look after your skin: Avoid strong detergents that can irritate your skin, keep your skin clean and well-lubricated to prevent dryness and infection.
Avoid cigarette smoke: Smoking reduces the blood flow to the skin.
Manage stress: Ensure you get sufficient rest and relaxation and balance work and leisure; for support talk to your health professionals, Arthritis Educator, family and New Zealand Scleroderma support group.
A healthy diet including frequent small meals rather than the usual large meals may help.
Provailen – A safe and natural herbal therapy
Indeed Scleroderma is a serious but, most of the time, a manageable and treatable disease for which the course varies among individuals. However, in all cases, a proactive role in its management will positively affect its outcome. With proper herbal therapy such Provailen to minimize stiffness and pain, and daily exercises to maintain optimum mobility, strength and good posture, most people with scleroderma can live productive lives with optimum energy and mental zeal.