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Arthritis Health Center

Scleroderma Diagnosis and Treatment

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How Do I Know if I Have Scleroderma?

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 sample of your skin for testing. That's called a biopsy. It's helpful because scleroderma can be hard to diagnose.

How Do You Treat Scleroderma?

You can get treatment to make symptoms feel better and take medicines to help prevent complications, like sores or organ damage.

Medications for Scleroderma

Skin: Try using moisturizers or corticosteroid creams.

Joint or other pain: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen, may help. Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid pills, such as prednisone, to lower inflammation.

Raynaud's phenomenon: This strong reaction to cold and stress in your hands and feet can cause them to turn white and ache. Your doctor may give you medicines to relax and open the blood vessels. You might hear them referred to as vasodilators.

Stomach trouble: You can take medications to lower stomach acids and control heartburn. Your doctor may prescribe medicines that help move food through your stomach and intestines. He may also try antibiotics or a special diet.

Kidney problems: You might take prescription drugs to control your blood pressure. One kind often used is called an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor.

Systemic scleroderma: Your doctor may give you drugs that suppress your immune system, like mycophenolate, cyclophosphamide, and methotrexate. Although these aren't approved for scleroderma, doctors often prescribe them to help.

At-Home Treatments, Physical Therapy, and Surgery

If you have Raynaud's phenomenon, wear gloves and warm socks.

Stretching and physical therapy can help keep joints from becoming hard to bend. Ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist.

Most people don't need surgery for their scleroderma. You may need it if your hands or joints are badly bent, or to fix serious skin problems or scars.  

WebMD Medical Reference

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

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