Knowing the Signs & Symptoms of Scleroderma

Sclero What? Understanding Scleroderma

Scleroderma is a chronic disease of the connective tissue and considered an autoimmune rheumatic disease.  The word scleroderma comes from two Greek words, “sclero” meaning hard and “derma” meaning skin.  Hardening of the skin is one of the most visible symptoms of the disease.  Scleroderma is not contagious or infectious. 

During National Scleroderma Awareness Month in June, we want to raise awareness about this disease that affects more than 300,000 Americans. Many times, a dermatologist will diagnose scleroderma as it effects the skin. In some people, scleroderma affects only the skin; however, scleroderma can also cause harm to blood vessels, internal organs and even the digestive tract.  Signs and symptoms vary from person to person. 


Areas affected by Scleroderma:

  • Skin: nearly everyone who has scleroderma experiences hardening and tightening of patches of skin.  These patches may be shaped like ovals or straight lines or cover wide areas of the body including arms and legs.  Skin may appear shiny because it is so tight, and movement may be restricted.
  • Fingers or toes: one early sign of having scleroderma is that your extremities feel numbness or coldness to an extreme.  This is also known as Raynaud’s disease, but you can suffer from this condition and not have scleroderma.
  • Teeth: because of the severe tightening of facial skin it can cause your mouth to become smaller and make it difficult to brush your teeth.  People with scleroderma many times do not produce enough saliva which can lead to tooth decay.
  • Digestive system: people with scleroderma may have acid reflux (a severe form of heartburn) and have trouble absorbing nutrients
  • Heart, lungs or kidneys: Scleroderma can affect the function of these major organs and if left untreated can be life-threatening.


There are two types of scleroderma, localized and systemic.  Localized scleroderma does not progress to systemic and it is confined to the skin or muscles.  Systemic scleroderma causes extensive and fatal damage to organs in the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and immune systems. 


Women are more affected by scleroderma 4-to-1 over males and it seems to most commonly occur between the ages of 30 and 50.  While there is currently no cure, there are a variety of treatment options that ease symptoms and improve quality of life. 


According to the Mayo Clinic, scleroderma results from an overproduction and accumulation of collagen in body tissues.  Collagen is a protein that makes your body’s connective tissue including your skin.

e rest of your body. Being quiet at first and ignoring those signs may lead to your skin yelling in the future.


Here are some physical signs to take into consideration as we kickoff Women’s Health Week:


Wrinkles: While everyone will have wrinkles in their lifetime, they may also be a sign of osteoporosis. New research reveals an association between wrinkles and bone health in early-menopausal women. The more sever the wrinkling is, the greater risk of lower bone density. In most cases, wrinkles are the result of aging, but excessive exposure to carcinogens, like cigarette smoke or exposure to sun, can speed up the process. 


Dry, Cracked Skin: Everyone experiences dry, cracked skin from time to time. Usually it can be solved by staying hydrated by drinking more water and using a good moisturizer. But in some instances, brittle skin can be a sign of a more serious health problem. Certain diseases such as diabetes and hypothyroidism may dehydrate your skin. Other contributors may be nutrient deficiencies associated with poor diet and eating disorders.  Another disease that manifests through the skin is atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries that leads to heart disease. This can especially be witnessed on the skin of the feet, legs and shins. When the arteries that carry blood to the extremities become blocked, they can deprive the skin of oxygen resulting in dry, shiny patches.   


Facial Flush: When you become embarrassed, you might turn red in the face.  However, for some people, facial redness is an ongoing occurrence that may also be accompanied by acne-like skin blemishes which are all common symptoms of rosacea, a chronic ongoing skin condition. While the cause is unknown, people with rosacea appear red and flushed in the face due to blood-vessel enlargement.  If left untreated, it can lead to bumps and pimples and enlargement of the nose. 


Butterfly Rash: When your skin has a rash, it is like a SOS sign that something is not right.   There are many kinds of rashes, but one in particular needs to be examined more closely. This rash stretches across both cheeks, tends to take on the shape of a butterfly and has a sunburn-like appearance.  This type of rash is a classic marker of lupus, an immune-system disease that affects the skin, joints, blood and kidneys.


Moles: Most of us have a mole or two, and while they are often harmless, they can signal the presence of a larger issue, like skin cancer. What is important is knowing the difference.  Look for growths that are asymmetrical, have an irregular border, vary in color, have a diameter larger than one-quarter of an inch, or are changing or evolving. Melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer, may exhibit one or more of these features.  If you notice a change, please see your dermatologist immediately.    


Author Platinum Dermatology — Published June 1, 2019