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What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is thought to be an auto-immune condition, meaning the immune system attacks healthy tissue. People with scleroderma produce too much collagen, which makes their skin hard and tight.
Scleroderma can either be ‘localised’, which only affects the skin, or ‘diffuse’, which affects internal organs or blood vessels as well as skin. This is sometimes known as systemic sclerosis.
What are the symptoms of scleroderma?
The symptoms of scleroderma vary according to which part of your body is affected. Usually there is thickening and hardening of the skin, especially on the fingers, arms and face.
Another common symptom is Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is a blood circulation problem that causes your fingers or toes to change colour and feel numb or painful in the cold.
How is scleroderma diagnosed?
Your doctor may diagnose scleroderma from talking to you and examining you. They may also take a blood test and a small skin sample (biopsy).
How is scleroderma treated?
There is no cure for scleroderma, but there are treatments that can improve symptoms. Medication can improve circulation and suppress the immune system, which may slow down the disease. If your organs are affected, you may be referred to a specialist, such as a kidney specialist if your kidneys are affected.
Lifestyle changes may make it easier to live with scleroderma. These include:
- wearing gloves and socks to keep your hands and feet warm, to prevent Raynaud’s phenomenon
- avoiding cigarette smoke, as this affects blood circulation
- regular physical activity to help keep skin and joints flexible
- keeping skin moisturised and clean to prevent dryness and infection
- joining a support group such as those organised by Scleroderma Australia
You can also talk to your doctor or an occupational therapist about aids and equipment that can make it easier to manage day to day.
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Last reviewed: August 2019