Scleroderma is such a rare disease that there’s only one way to be sure you get the very best treatment. You need a rheumatology expert who is familiar with all the medications and who stays up to date with developing treatment options.
That’s exactly what you get from Behnam Khaleghi, MD, at Pacific Rheumatology. As an expert in scleroderma, he carefully identifies the extent of your disease and develops a customized treatment plan that relieves your symptoms and helps you stay active and healthy.
The treatment options for scleroderma make more sense when you know about the condition, so here’s a quick rundown of the basics.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that affects your connective tissues. This disease causes an overproduction of collagen, which then thickens and hardens the affected tissues.
The disease takes two major forms:
This form only occurs in your skin, causing hard, tight patches (plaques) of skin. The patches may look like ovals or straight lines, and they can stay in a small area or cover a large area of your trunk and limbs.
In addition to plaques on your skin, you may notice swelling, hardened nodules under your skin, and enlarged red blood vessels, especially on your hands and face.
Systemic scleroderma affects your skin, as well as other parts of your body. This type may involve your joints, muscles, heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. As scleroderma leads to scarring in your organs, it affects their ability to function.
One of the earliest signs of systemic scleroderma, called Raynaud’s phenomenon, makes your fingers or toes turn white or blue when they’re exposed to cold temperatures.
The other symptoms you develop depend on the organ that’s affected. A few of the most common include difficulty swallowing, joint pain, leg edema, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Medications are the mainstay of treatment for scleroderma. We don’t currently have any treatments that can prevent or cure scleroderma, but we can prescribe many medications that effectively relieve your symptoms.
A few examples include:
Topical creams and ointments can soften the patches of hardened skin. These treatments contain medications that reduce inflammation and slow down cell growth.
Typical anti-inflammatory medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, and corticosteroids. These medications can help relieve pain and swelling throughout your body, but they’re often used when scleroderma affects your muscles and joints.
Immunosuppressants slow down the autoimmune reaction, which helps to reduce your symptoms. We specialize in biologic medications that suppress your immune system, such as rituximab.
These medications slow down the progression of scleroderma and may partially reverse organ damage, but they can’t cure the disease.
When scleroderma affects the gastrointestinal tract, many patients develop acid reflux. Reflux is treated with medications that neutralize stomach acid and reduce acid production.
Medications that lower your blood pressure, including angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and calcium channel blockers, are often prescribed when scleroderma involves your kidneys.
Statins are best known for lowering your cholesterol, but they also help protect blood vessels affected by scleroderma.
People with scleroderma have an 8-30% higher risk of developing pulmonary hypertension compared to those who don’t have the disease. We use several classes of medications to lower pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in your lungs.
Beyond medications, we may recommend two other treatments for scleroderma, phototherapy and physical therapy:
The skin patches caused by scleroderma may improve when they’re exposed to a specific type of ultraviolet light called UVA1. This narrow band of light breaks down collagen fibers, effectively reducing the amount of collagen in the plaque.
A structured physical therapy program can ease your pain, boost circulation, maintain muscle strength, and make it easier to move by stretching the skin, muscles, and joints affected by scleroderma.
If you have questions about scleroderma or need compassionate care for your symptoms, call Pacific Rheumatology or book an appointment online.