Scleroderma, sometimes referred to as systemic sclerosis, is a chronic systemic autoimmune disease characterised by hardening (sclero) of the skin (derma). In more severe cases of this disease, it may also involve complications to internal organs such as the lungs, esophagus, kidneys and heart.
There is no known cause and no known cure for scleroderma. As in all autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system initiates an attack on healthy tissues which results in the manifestation of disease. Every case of scleroderma is unique and presents slightly differently. However, there are two main types:
Limited Scleroderma mainly affects the hands, arms and face. It was previously called CREST syndrome in reference to the following common manifestations: calcinosis (the deposition of calcium nodules in the skin), raynaud’s phenomenon (exaggerated vasoconstriction in the hands, with fingers undergoing white-blue-red color transitions in the cold), esophageal dysfunction (leading to difficulty swallowing), sclerodactyly (skin thickening on the fingers), and telangiectasias (dilated capillaries on the face, hands and mucous membranes).
Diffuse Scleroderma is rapidly progressing and affects a large area of the skin and one or more internal organs. This form of scleroderma can be quite disabling. In addition to the Limited Scleroderma manifestations, patients also experience all over body aching, excruciating pain, weakness, extreme fatigue, joint swelling, disfiguring of hands and facial features, acid reflux, problems sleeping, malabsorption, skin tightening and darkening.