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Connective Tissue Disease

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Autoimmune Diseases

For other forms of connective tissue disease, the cause is not known. In some cases, researchers believe the disorder may be triggered by something in the environment of people who may be genetically susceptible. In these diseases, the body's normally protective immune system produces antibodies that target the body's own tissues for attack.

These diseases include the following.

Polymyositis and dermatomyositis. These are two related diseases in which there is inflammation of the muscles (polymyositis) and skin (dermatomyositis). Symptoms of both diseases can include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

People with dermatomyositis may also have a skin involvement around the eyes and the hands.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the thin membrane (called the synovium) lining the joints, causing pain, stiffness, warmth and swelling of the joints, and inflammation throughout the body. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

RA can lead to permanent joint damage and deformity.

Scleroderma. Scleroderma is a term for a group of disorders that causes thick, tight skin, buildup of scar tissue, and organ damage. These disorders fall into two general categories: localized scleroderma and systemic sclerosis.

Localized scleroderma is confined to the skin and, sometimes, the muscle beneath it. Systemic sclerosis also involves the blood vessels and major organs.

Sjögren's syndrome. Sjögren's syndrome is a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands, such as those of the eyes and mouth. The effects can range from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Although dry eyes and mouth are the main symptoms of Sjögren's, many people also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain. The condition also increases the risk of lymphoma and may cause problems with the kidneys, lungs, blood vessels, and digestive system as well as nerve problems.

Systemic lupus erythematosus. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or simply lupus) is a disease characterized by inflammation of the joints, skin, and internal organs. Symptoms may include:

  • A butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Hair loss
  • Fluid around the heart
  • Kidney problems
  • Anemia
  • Problems with memory and concentration

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