Systemic Scleroderma: Treatments For The 8 Major Symptoms

Casual woman with stomach pain sitting in bed

Scleroderma is a group of rare diseases that involve the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues — the fibers that provide the framework and support for your body.  When the disease affects more than the skin, it is called systemic scleroderma. Systemic scleroderma not only affects the skin and tissues but also the blood vessels and major organs. This more severe form of scleroderma, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, is more common in African Americans and people ages 30 to 50.

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Because systemic scleroderma affects the whole body, managing its effects requires a whole body approach. A rheumatologist (a doctor who treats arthritis and other diseases that cause swelling in the joints) may lead your health care team and refer you to other medical  experts for problems with skin, kidneys, digestion, joints, teeth, lungs, heart  and Raynaud’s (pronounced RAY-KNOWDS)  phenomenon. Raynaud’s phenomenon is when the fingers become very sensitive to cold and change color with cold or emotional stress. The cold sensitivity and color changes are a common condition in scleroderma.

There is no cure for systemic scleroderma, but the following tips can help to cope with and manage these problems associated with the disease.

1. Skin Problems

With scleroderma, collagen, which is a fibrous type of protein that makes up your body’s connective tissues, builds up in the skin. Although doctors aren’t sure what causes this abnormal collagen production, the body’s immune system appears to play a role. For unknown reasons, the immune system (system in the body that fights against infection) turns against the body, producing inflammation and overproducing collagen. Too much collagen  can make your skin dry and stiff.  The following may help to decrease the dryness of the skin:

  • Oil-based creams and lotions after every bath or shower.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Using a humidifier at home.
  • Avoiding hot baths or showers.
  • Avoiding strong soaps, cleaners, and chemicals. Wear rubber gloves if you have to use those products.

2. Kidney Problems

When scleroderma affects your kidneys, you can develop elevated blood pressure and an increased level of protein in your urine. More serious effects of kidney complications may include a sudden increase in blood pressure and kidney failure that comes on quickly.

The way you can spot problems  is to:

  • Check your blood pressure often and especially if you have new symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if your blood pressure is higher than it normally reads.
  • Take the medicines, as directed, that your doctor prescribes.