What is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a rare but chronic condition that is characterized by the hardening of skin and connective tissues – it literally means hard skin. It belongs to a group of arthritic conditions known as connective tissue diseases in which an individual’s antibodies are directed against his or her own tissues. There are two types of scleroderma – localized and systemic scleroderma. Localized scleroderma usually begins with dry patches of skin on the hands or face which progressively becomes thicker and harder.
Systemic scleroderma, on the other hand, affects the blood vessels and internal organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, lungs, esophagus and gastrointestinal tract. Scleroderma most commonly occurs in people aged between 30-50 years and affects women more than men. There is no known cure for scleroderma and often this condition leads to depression and low self esteem.
The symptoms and signs of scleroderma include:
What Causes Scleroderma?
The exact cause of scleroderma is not known. Scleroderma is a result of the overproduction of collagen in body tissues and researchers believe that the immune system plays a role in the development of this disease. The immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells which causes inflammation and an overproduction of collagen. It is also believed that genetic and environmental factors may also contribute to the development of scleroderma. Industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals such as silica dust, some plastic materials or rapeseed oil have been linked to scleroderma.
Diagnosing scleroderma can be very difficult especially during the early stages because it is often mistaken for other connective tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Your physician will perform a physical examination as well as review your medical history. During the examination, the doctor will check for color changes in your skin, whether there are hardened and thickened areas in the skin and feel for any changes in the joints and tendons. Additional tests which include blood tests, a skin biopsy, chest x-ray, MRI or CT scan may also be performed to determine the diagnosis of scleroderma.
Help for Scleroderma
While there is no cure for scleroderma, a variety of treatment options can ease the symptoms of this condition. Individuals have to avoid developing infections and it is most likely that doctors will therefore administer an annual flu and pneumococcal vaccine. Topical medications such as moisturizers or corticosteroids are used to treat localized scleroderma.
If localized scleroderma progresses to a large area of the body such as an arm or leg, oral medications may also be prescribed. Various medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, calcium-channel blockers, immunosuppressants or ACE inhibitors are used to treat the symptoms of systemic scleroderma – improve circulation, control high blood pressure, reduce swelling and inflammation, promote digestive function and prevent kidney damage.
If symptoms become severe, surgery may be required to repair intestinal wall or stomach damage. Sometimes, infected fingers or toes may have to be amputated and in rare cases a kidney, heart or lung transplantation may be performed.
Alternative treatment options such as biofeedback and acupuncture are effective in easing the symptoms of scleroderma and releasing stress and anxiety. In addition, certain lifestyle changes such as eating smaller, well balanced meals more frequently, exercising regularly, avoiding exposure to cold, stress and smoking can also make a significant difference in an individual’s quality of life
Natural and alternative treatments may also be used in combination with prescription medicine to reduce the symptoms of scleroderma. Herbal and homeopathic remedies have proven to be highly effective in supporting skin health and healthy lymphatic functioning.
Well known herbs such as Galium aperine (Cleavers) and Trifolium pratense (red clover) act as a cleansing tonic, lymphatic cleanser and blood purifier for the skin. Homeopathic ingredients such as Natrium muriaticum, Kalium muriaticum and Kalium sulphate help to maintain a well-hydrated skin and support the natural healing and regenerative processes of the skin.