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Scleroderma is a group of disease that get worse over time. Scleroderma can affect only the skin (localized scleroderma), or it can affect the entire body (systemic scleroderma). The systemic form of the disease affects the kidneys, heart, lungs, and digestive system. The Mayo Clinic reports that only 250 out of every one million people have a form of this condition.
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This condition results from an overproduction of collagen in the body. The cause of this overproduction is unknown, but researchers believe the body’s immune system becomes over-active. Instead of attacking foreign bodies, antibodies attack healthy tissues, causing the body to produce too much collagen.
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Native Americans and African Americans are at an increased risk for developing this condition. Native Americans from Oklahoma have an even greater risk of scleroderma than Native Americans living in other states. This condition occurs more often in women than in men. Other risk factors for scleroderma include exposure to industrial solvents, use of chemotherapy drugs, and exposure to silica dust.
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Early Symptoms of Scleroderma
One of the early symptoms of scleroderma is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition causes acid reflux, and also makes it difficult to absorb nutrients. Skin changes caused by this condition include swollen hands and fingers, tight skin on the hands our around the mouth, and thickened patches of skin. Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common occurrence in people with scleroderma. This is an exaggerated sensitivity to cold temperatures that causes the blood vessels in the extremities to constrict. This results in stiff fingers and toes, and may also result in color changes of the skin in this areas.
Localized scleroderma causes different symptoms. Morphea is thickened patches of skin that appear in an oval shape. These patches have a purple border and a white center. Linear scleroderma results in bands of hardened skin on the forehead, legs, or arms.
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Scleroderma is incurable. Instead, treatments focus on alleviating the symptoms of this condition. Calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor antagonists, and low-dose coated aspirin treat Raynaud’s phenomenon caused by scleroderma. Joint stiffness and pain often respond to narcotics, analgesics, COX-2 inhibitors, NSAIDs, and low-dose corticosteroids. GERD is managed with proton pump inhibitors, antacids, and H-2 blockers. Other drugs used to treat scleroderma include immunosuppressants, antibiotics, and prokinetic agents.
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Mayo Clinic: Scleroderma. Accessed December 31, 2009.
Scleroderma Research Foundation: Treatment Information. Accessed December 31, 2009.