Who Gets Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a complex disease. It shares symptoms with many different diseases and affects multiple body systems. The symptoms you initially develop may be different from the issues that arise as the disease progresses.

In other words, it takes a specialist like Behnam Khaleghi, MD, at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center to determine if your symptoms are due to scleroderma. Then he works closely with you to manage your symptoms, developing a personalized treatment plan that helps you stay healthy and well.

This short explainer tells you about scleroderma and who is most likely to get the disease. But if you have any questions about symptoms or you’re concerned about a family history of scleroderma, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Scleroderma explained

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder that affects connective tissues throughout your body. The disease causes inflammation and a buildup of collagen, leading to scarring of your skin and internal organs. There are two primary types of scleroderma, limited and diffuse.

Limited (localized) scleroderma

This type of scleroderma only affects the skin, causing areas of tight, hard, thickened skin often on your face, hands, fingers, forearms, knees, lower legs, and feet.

Diffuse (systemic) sclerosis

Systemic sclerosis affects your skin, as well as your blood vessels, joints, and major organs, including your heart, lungs, kidneys, and digestive tract.

Risk factors for developing scleroderma

Though anyone can develop scleroderma, this disease is rare and certain factors increase your risk. 

The qualities that make some more likely to have scleroderma include:

Being a woman

Many autoimmune diseases affect women far more frequently than men, and that includes scleroderma. In fact, women are five times more likely to have scleroderma than men.

Being age 30-50

Scleroderma can appear in children and elderly adults. However, it’s most prevalent in people aged 30-50 years

Having multiple autoimmune disorders

You’re more likely to get scleroderma if you already have another autoimmune disorder, especially one that affects your connective tissues. In 15-20% of all cases, people who have systemic scleroderma also have symptoms of another autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome.

Having a family history

A family history of scleroderma raises your risk of developing the disease. Compared to the general population, scleroderma is 13 times higher in first-degree relatives of people who are diagnosed with the disease.

Exposure to environmental toxins

Exposure to silica dust is a significant risk factor for scleroderma. This problem is found in high-risk jobs such as foundry work, stone cutting, rock drilling, and quarry work.

Early symptoms of scleroderma

The symptoms you develop depend on which type of scleroderma you have and the area of the body affected. However, the earliest symptoms experienced by most people occur in your fingers.

You may find that your fingers (and hands) become stiff and puffy. Or you may develop Raynaud’s disease, a condition in which your fingers become cold, tingly, and numb, and they change colors. These symptoms occur in response to cold temperatures and emotional stress.

Skin changes are another one of the earliest symptoms. You may experience skin tightening, have changes in skin color, and develop hard, thick, oval-shaped patches of skin.

Beyond these symptoms, it’s common to have swollen fingers, inflamed and painful joints, and limited mobility in your fingers, wrists, or elbows due to thickening skin.

If you live near our offices in Orange and Laguna Hills, California, and have signs of scleroderma, call Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center, or schedule an appointment online.

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