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  • Writer's pictureJessica Frizzell, PA-C

Common Symptoms of Scleroderma/Systemic Sclerosis

Updated: Feb 7

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, Scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is a complex and rare autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects connective tissues in the body. This condition is characterized by the abnormal growth of collagen, leading to thickening and hardening of the skin and various internal organs. In this article, we will discuss the most common symptoms of Scleroderma/Systemic Sclerosis with help from resources of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 

Understanding Scleroderma/Systemic Sclerosis:

Scleroderma is fundamentally an autoimmune disorder, wherein the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. The hallmark feature of the disease is the excessive production of collagen, a protein that provides structure and support to various tissues.

Scleroderma is classified into two main types: 

  • limited cutaneous scleroderma 

  • diffuse cutaneous scleroderma

Limited cutaneous scleroderma primarily affects the skin of the hands, arms, and face, while diffuse cutaneous scleroderma involves more widespread skin involvement and often affects internal organs.

Common Symptoms of Scleroderma

Skin Symptoms:

  • Thickening and Tightening: One of the early signs is the thickening and tightening of the skin, especially on the fingers, hands, and face.

  • Raynaud's Phenomenon: Many individuals with scleroderma experience Raynaud's phenomenon, where blood vessels in the fingers and toes constrict in response to cold or stress, leading to color changes and numbness. Internal Organ Symptoms:

  • Digestive Tract: Scleroderma can affect the digestive tract, causing symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, heartburn, and gastrointestinal issues.

  • Lungs: Lung involvement can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, and, in severe cases, pulmonary fibrosis. Joint and Muscle Pain:

  • Arthralgia: Joint pain and inflammation may occur, affecting mobility and contributing to discomfort.

  • Myalgia: Muscular pain and weakness can be present, impacting daily activities. Vascular Symptoms:

  • Telangiectasia: Small red spots, known as telangiectasia, may appear on the skin due to the dilation of small blood vessels. Fatigue and Malaise:

  • Individuals with scleroderma often experience persistent fatigue and a general feeling of malaise. Digital Ulcers and Calcinosis:

  • Digital Ulcers: In severe cases, scleroderma may lead to the development of painful sores or ulcers on the fingers or toes.

  • Calcinosis: Abnormal calcium deposits under the skin, known as calcinosis, may occur. Renal Involvement:

  • Scleroderma can affect the kidneys, leading to hypertension and, in some cases, renal crisis, a severe complication requiring immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of Scleroderma/Systemic Sclerosis affect the skin, internal organs, and overall well-being. Early diagnosis and a multidisciplinary approach involving rheumatologists, dermatologists, and other specialists are crucial for managing the disease and addressing its diverse manifestations. As research continues to advance, the hope for improved treatments and a deeper understanding of scleroderma brightens, offering individuals with this condition a path towards enhanced quality of life and tailored care.

If you suspect you have symptoms that may indicate you have Scleroderma/Systemic Sclerosis, we encourage you to reach out to your healthcare provider to see if a referral to a rheumatologist, such as Paducah Rheumatology, may be in your best interest. We are currently accepting new patients with a physician’s referral.

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