A rare autoimmune disease, scleroderma involves the hardening of connective tissue throughout your body. Connective tissue holds the different parts of your body together and gives your body structure: Your skin, tendons, and ligaments are all examples of connective tissue.
With an autoimmune disease, your own body works against you. In the case of scleroderma, that means that your body mistakenly recognizes your own tissues as invaders and produces extra collagen (a protein found in skin) as if there were an injury that needs healing.
Warning signs of scleroderma
Scleroderma affects everyone differently. In some people, the disease targets only the skin, but in others, the disease may affect virtually every organ.
Though the signs and symptoms of scleroderma vary from person to person, you can expect any of these warning signs:
- Patches of tight, thickened skin
- Skin that looks shiny and taut, like it’s pulled tight
- Painful or inflamed joints
- Restricted range of motion
- Bluish fingers and toes
- Coldness or numbness in your fingers or toes
- Muscle weakness or fatigue
- Ulcers and sores on your extremities
- Scar formation
If scleroderma is affecting your blood vessels, lungs, kidneys, digestive system, or heart, you may experience more severe symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Digestive discomfort, such as bloating or cramping
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Trouble breathing
Scleroderma treatment options
Unfortunately, there’s not yet a cure for scleroderma. There are, however, many treatment options that can ease symptoms, relieve pain, and improve your quality of life.
When you come to Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center to see us, Dr. Khaleghi may prescribe medications to help with various aspects of scleroderma, including:
- Steroid creams or pills to reduce skin symptoms and joint pain
- Blood pressure medications to dilate your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure
- Autoimmune drugs that suppress your immune system to slow the progression of scleroderma
- Antacids or other digestive support to reduce heartburn, acid reflux, and digestive discomfort
- Antibiotics to protect you from or to cure bacterial infections that may affect your lungs or skin
- Pain medications to relieve pain
If medications aren’t helping enough on their own, Dr. Khaleghi might refer you to a physical therapist who can help you manage pain, retain your range of motion, build strength, and ensure your independence with day-to-day activities.
In severe cases, some patients with scleroderma need surgery. If Raynaud’s disease develops in addition to scleroderma, it might mean the amputation of affected fingertips becomes necessary. Raynaud’s disease involves constriction of blood vessels, and if it becomes severe enough, the tissue in the fingertips or toes may die.
People who have systemic scleroderma (scleroderma that affects the organ systems) may need a variety of surgeries to extend their lives. In these cases, Dr. Khaleghi refers you to a qualified surgeon.
If you have scleroderma or think you may have symptoms of scleroderma, visit Dr. Khaleghi right away to get started with the best course of treatment. Call our office location that’s nearest to you in either Orange, or Laguna Hills, California, or book an appointment online.