Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a chronic connective tissue disease which is classified as one of the autoimmune rheumatic diseases. The disease primarily affects the skin, therefore, the the suffix, derma.
The symptoms of scleroderma vary from person to person and can include:
Raynaud's phenomenon - In people with this condition, blood vessels in the fingers or toes, and sometimes in the tips of the nose and ears, suddenly constrict. The area turns white or blue and becomes cold and numb. This is followed by a flush of redness as the area warms up again, often together with pain or tingling. Raynaud's phenomenon can be triggered by exposure to cold or vibration or by emotional stress.
Skin symptoms - There can be swelling of the fingers, hands, forearms and face and sometimes the feet and lower legs. This is followed by a skin thickening and tightness that can limit body movement. There also can be:
Joints - Joints can swell and become painful and stiff.
Muscles - Muscles can become weak, and tendons can become abnormally thick, causing pain and limited joint motion.
Digestive system - When scleroderma involves the esophagus, it can cause a feeling of fullness or burning pain (heartburn) in the upper abdomen or behind the breastbone, together with difficulty swallowing or keeping food down. Other digestive symptoms include bloating, constipation, lower abdominal pain or difficulty controlling bowel movements.
Lungs - Symptoms can include shortness of breath, especially when you exercise, and a dry cough that doesn't bring up sputum or mucus.
Heart - Problems can include chest pain, abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure.
Kidneys - Kidney damage can lead to high blood pressure, headache, seizures and too little urine being made.
Other symptoms - Other symptoms can include dry eyes and mouth, sudden episodes of severe facial pain (trigeminal neuralgia), and impotence.
More than 95% of people with scleroderma have both Raynaud's phenomenon and skin thickening (also called sclerodactyly when the fingers are involved). In addition, those with limited scleroderma tend to have telangiectasias (85% of patients); digestive problems involving the esophagus (80%); and calcinosis (50%), often called CREST syndrome (calcinosis, Raynaud's, esophageal disease, sclerodactyly and telangiectasia).
Besides having Raynaud's phenomenon and skin thickening, people with the diffuse form of scleroderma can have digestive symptoms involving the esophagus (80%), joint symptoms (70%), muscle weakness (50%), lung symptoms (40%) and heart failure (30%).
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