Autoimmune disorders are often some of the most difficult disorders for physicians to treat, with many autoimmune disorders being chronic conditions without a permanent cure.
While many autoimmune disorders such as arthritis and lupus are well-known and well-understood by the general public, there are other more rare conditions that are less known to the public. With that said, one of the most important keys to helping those afflicted by these conditions is by raising awareness about their existence.
In the United States, the month of June marks the scleroderma awareness month – a month-long campaign that attempts to raise awareness about this autoimmune disorder. At Bikham Healthcare, we’d like to take this opportunity to shine light on scleroderma by covering everything you need to know about this relatively rare autoimmune disorder.
What is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, though medical experts are still unsure exactly what mechanisms cause the condition to develop. What we do know is that scleroderma is a result of the body producing and accumulating too much collagen in body tissues, and it appears that the immune system is somehow involved.
Collagen is a protein that exists in the blood, bones, muscles, and skin, with three-quarters of skin tissue consisting of collagen. Collagen is also what scar tissue is made of, and when the body is injured, the immune system instructs the production of collagen in order to repair the wound. When the immune system instructs the body to produce far more collagen than is needed, though, the resulting condition is known as scleroderma.
Collagen production is necessary for repairing wounds and keeping your skin elastic. However, too much collagen is something that can lead to a lot of problems.
Signs and Symptoms of Scleroderma
When the immune system goes haywire with its collagen production responsibilities, it can result in a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of scleroderma include:
- Hardening or tightening skin
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Loss of muscle, cartilage, and bone
- Stiff joints/joint pain
- Dry or itchy skin
- Skin discoloration
- Hair loss
- A reduced ability to produce sweat
- Calcinosis, or calcium deposits underneath the skin
- Swollen blood vessels
- Bone development issues in children
- Congestive heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Digestive issues
- Difficulty breathing
It is important to note, though, that the symptoms of scleroderma will vary from patient to patient, and being diagnosed with scleroderma does not mean that you will experience all of the symptoms listed above. Some symptoms such as hardening or tightening skin are quite common among scleroderma patients, while others such as bone development issues are quite rare. With that said, if you are experiencing any of these scleroderma symptoms, it is essential to meet with a physician so that your condition can be diagnosed and treatment can begin.
How is Scleroderma Treated?
As is the case with many autoimmune disorders, there is no cure for scleroderma, and scleroderma is a chronic condition that tends to worsen over time. While this is difficult news for anyone who is diagnosed with scleroderma, the good news is that there are treatments that can lessen the condition’s symptoms.
Since scleroderma treatments are targeted at lessening the condition’s symptoms, though, how scleroderma is treated ultimately depends on the exact symptoms that a patient is experiencing. Anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroids can provide relief from joint and muscle pain, while skin lotions and moisturizers can be used to ease dry or itchy skin. It is also for physicians to prescribe scleroderma patients medications that suppress the immune system in order to slow the production of excess collagen.
Since scleroderma is thought to be worsened by various environmental factors, your physician may also recommend lifestyle changes such as avoiding exposure to certain chemicals and medications or dietary changes.
Only about one in every ten-thousand individuals will be diagnosed with scleroderma, making it an incredibly rare autoimmune disorder. For those who are diagnosed with scleroderma, though, the condition can be life-changing. At Bikham Healthcare, it is our goal to raise awareness about this little-known disorder so that those who are impacted by it are able to understand the nature of their condition and seek out the help they need. If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms that might lead you to believe that you are suffering from scleroderma, be sure to schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible.