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Scleroderma -- The Basics Explained

What Is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma (pronounced SKLEER-oh-der-ma) is a disease that affects your skin. When you have scleroderma, your skin gradually tightens and thickens or hardens. It can’t stretch like it used to.

Scleroderma can also change tiny blood vessels. That damages internal organs. Although it usually affects the hands, face, and feet, it can also target the digestive tract, heart and blood flow, lungs, and kidneys.

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Scleroderma Diagnosis and Treatment

If you think you have scleroderma, tell your doctor what symptoms you've noticed.  In order to make a diagnosis, he'll ask you about your family's health history, look for changes in how thick your skin is, and do some tests. He may look at your finger under a microscope to check for changes in tiny blood vessels. These start to vanish early on in scleroderma. He’ll likely take a blood sample and send it to the lab to see if your immune system is in overdrive. Your doctor may also take a small...

Read the Scleroderma Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

The good news is that medications can help prevent these kinds of complications, and treatments can ease your symptoms.

Types of Scleroderma

There are many types of scleroderma, and it can look very different from one person to another.

 The two main types are localized or systemic scleroderma:

  • Localized affects small areas of skin.
  • Systemic affects a lot of the body.  

See your doctor if you think you might have it. Treatment helps stop systemic scleroderma from becoming life-threatening.

Who Gets Scleroderma?

Anyone can get it, but women are more likely to get it than men.

Localized scleroderma is three times more common in women than men. Systemic scleroderma is usually seen in women ages 30 to 50.

Children can also get scleroderma, but that's rare.

What Causes Scleroderma?

Doctors don't know the exact cause, but they do know what happens when you have scleroderma.

The problem is with your immune system. For some reason, it prompts your body to make too much of the protein collagen. The result is thicker, less flexible skin and other tissues in your body.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on July 15, 2014

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