Scleroderma is a potentially fatal condition that affects the skin, blood vessels, and internal organs. It occurs as a result of the immune system attacking the connective tissue underneath the skin, hardening the skin and tissue surrounding the internal organs, and causing scarring.
Thus, doctors believe the cause of scleroderma is an overactive and out of control immune system, but it’s unclear what triggers this in the first place, though genetics are thought to play a role.
There are several types of scleroderma, each varying degrees of severity. The symptoms of scleroderma can usually be controlled through various treatments, but there is currently no cure for the condition.
Still, individuals affected by it can lead full and happy lives, as long as treatment is undergone and the symptoms of scleroderma are managed. It is a fairly rare condition that needs to be monitored carefully.
5 Warning Symptoms of Scleroderma
The following are the most common symptoms of scleroderma.
1. Raynaud’s Disease
Raynaud’s disease, often referred to as Raynaud’s phenomenon, is a common condition that affects the blood circulation. Though it doesn’t typically cause any severe problems, it can play a role in the development of scleroderma.
Poor circulation can lead to pain, numbness, and changing colors in fingers and toes. Patients may also have a pins and needles sensation and find it difficult to move the affected area on a frequent basis.
Raynaud’s disease is often the first sign scleroderma may be developing, though having it does not necessarily guarantee scleroderma will progress.
If you have been diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, be on the lookout for other symptoms of scleroderma, such as the ones discussed next.
2. Thickened Skin
Hardened or thickened skin is another tell-tale sign of scleroderma. Because the immune system is attacking the connective tissues and blood vessels beneath, the body triggers increased production of collagen, which is the substance that promotes skin cell growth and renewal.
This excess collagen tricks the body into thinking it needs to repair itself, and the skin begins to harden and scar from the inside out. The blood vessels then narrow and blood flow to other organs decreases. The appearance often looks shiny and smooth, and it is most common on the hands, feet, and face.
3. Sores on Fingertips
Digital ulcers, or sores on the fingers and toes, are another classic sign of scleroderma. The significant changes in the skin that lead to tissue breakdown often result in sores on the fingertips.
This symptom presents in roughly forty percent of scleroderma patients. These sores are uncomfortable and are often slow healing due to the tightening of the skin and decrease in blood circulation.
Even simple everyday tasks can become a struggle for an individual with this particular symptom, and it makes a huge impact on a patient’s quality of life. There are many treatment options for digital sores, though, so be sure to discuss options with a doctor.
Swelling from scleroderma is one of the more painful symptoms. Inflammation can affect both the joints and the nerves, causing a range of feelings from mild discomfort to chronic and extreme pain.
Individuals with scleroderma may experience a build-up of excess fluid in the joints due to the narrowing and incapacity of blood vessels, leading to swollen hands and fingers. Though this typically occurs in the morning, with the fluid dispersing throughout the day, it is certainly an inconvenient sign of scleroderma.
When joint stiffness does not correct itself, however, the inflammation can spread from the hands and fingers to other areas of the body, such as the elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Joints can feel as though they’ve become ‘locked’ into a particular position, limiting mobility significantly.
The swelling associated with inflammation can also trap the nerves and put pressure on them, further causing pain and discomfort.
5. Red Spots on Face and Chest
Because the blood vessels fail to function properly in bodies afflicted with this disease, they can begin to swell near the surface of the skin. The coagulation of blood cells can cause the appearance of red spots or lines on the skin, particularly on the face and chest.
Though not physically painful, they are not aesthetically pleasing. When circulation does improve, though, the natural flow of blood should cause these spots to go away, meaning they are not typically permanent. Red spots on face and chest occur, at some time or another, in about seventy-five percent of scleroderma patients.