Scleroderma means “hard skin.”Scleroderma refers to a range of disorders in which the skin and connective tissues tighten and harden. It is a long-term, progressive disease. This means it gradually gets worse. It is considered a rheumatic disease and a connective tissue disorder. It is also thought to be an autoimmune condition, in which the body’s own immune system attacks the body’s tissues. This results in an overproduction of collagen, the protein that forms the basis of connective tissue. The result is a thickening, or fibrosis, and scarring of tissue. Scleroderma is not contagious. It may run in families, but it often occurs in patients without any family history of the disease. It ranges from very mild to potentially fatal.
Early symptoms of scleroderma include changes in the fingers and hands, for example, stiffness, tightness, and puffiness because of sensitivity to cold or emotional stress. However, symptoms will vary according to the type and how it affects the person, and whether it affects one part of the body or a whole body system. The two main types of scleroderma are localized and systemic. Localized scleroderma mainly affects the skin, but it may have an impact on the muscles and bones. 0systemic scleroderma affects the whole body, including the blood and internal organs, and especially the kidneys, esophagus, heart, and lungs. The physician will carry out a physical examination and some tests. The patient may be referred to a rheumatologist, a specialist in joint and connective tissue diseases. Treatment depends on how the disease affects the individual.
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