The National Scleroderma Awareness month of June reminds us to pay attention to any unusual thickening of the skin, especially on the hands, arms, face and feet. A scleroderma diagnosis can be distressing, but one of our foot specialists will give you comprehensive information, treatment and support for your particular circumstance. But first, let’s give you some background about scleroderma right away.
What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a rare, chronic, autoimmune disease in which the immune system malfunctions and our body’s cells overproduce collagen. Collagen accumulates in the body’s tissues, resulting in the characteristic appearance of thick, dense, hard tissue in place of normal skin. Scleroderma is not contagious or cancerous. Its symptoms vary widely from mild to acute, and every case is different. Of the two main forms of the disease, localized scleroderma is more common and affects only the skin, while systemic scleroderma affects other organs and structures in the body (e.g. blood vessels, heart, digestive tract) and can be serious. Women are affected four times more than men.
Unfortunately, scientists have not yet determined the exact cause of scleroderma. But we do know some important aspects of the disease: the body overproduces collagen; the immune system plays a key role; and there is a gene that increases the likelihood of contracting scleroderma.
The symptoms of scleroderma will vary according to the type and extent of your condition, but here are the most common signs:
- Skin. Look for thickened, hardened patches of skin that are often shiny and tight.
- Fingers and toes. In Raynaud’s phenomenon, reduced blood flow to the fingers and toes causes numbness, pain and discoloration, along with an exaggerated response to cold and stress. (Raynaud’s phenomenon also affects people who do not have scleroderma.)
- Digestive problems. Symptoms include acid reflux, difficulty swallowing and poor absorption of nutrients in your food.
- Serious types of scleroderma affect internal organs like the lungs (shortness of breath, pulmonary hypertension) and kidneys (elevated blood pressure, high level of protein in urine)
Diagnosis and Treatment
Scleroderma is difficult to diagnose, and is often mistaken for other conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. At the moment, scleroderma has no cure. However, a meticulous examination by experienced doctors, especially of your skin, will provide you with a variety of treatment options to manage your symptoms. Contact Advanced Foot Care Centers at any one of our six locations in Tennessee (Hixson and Chattanooga) and North Georgia (Ft. Oglethorpe and Dalton) by phone or online appointment request. If you haven’t met with one of our podiatrists before, please fill out our New Patient Information form and bring it to your appointment. We’ll examine your skin, particularly on your feet and ankles, and work closely with any other specialists your condition needs to give you comprehensive and effective care.