SCLERODERMA; when the Body turns against itself
The term “scleroderma” (SD) comes from the Greek word meaning “hard skin,” though all connective tissue –not just skin- is affected. It is a chronic autoimmune disease primarily afflicting females and is characterized by abnormal thickening of the skin. It is often misdiagnosed, sometimes for years, since it presents different symptoms in varying degrees in each patient.
The cause of SD is unknown. Scientists agree that in cases of SD, the body produces an excess of collagen, which then attacks the body’s healthy tissue. Thu, it is often said that SD is a disease in which the body turns against itself.
There are two major variants of SD as well as other less common forms. The most serious form is called diffuse or systemic and is characterized by rapid development of a thickening of the skin, beginning with the hands and face and extending to the arms and trunk. People with diffuse SD are at greater risk for developing internal-organ involvement early in the course of the disease. The other major form is often called limited or localized SD.
In cases of diffuse SD, the areas of skin hardness are widespread and typically appear on both sides of the body. Diffuse SD also includes inflammation of the muscles and the swelling of the fingers, hands, and feet. Gastrointestinal problems are common, but more serious are lung, heart, and kidney involvement.
The vascular system is also affected, many times beginning with Raynaud’s phenomenon, where the fingers and toes lose circulation and turn white, red, or blue upon exposure to cold and cause spasms of pain. At present there are no proven treatments or cures for any forms of SD.
On the positive side, many SD victims have found that love, joy, and hope have deepened in their lives as family members and others reach out to assist them. Although the victim and his loved ones are faced with different challenges, they can choose to maintain positive attitude. Feelings of hopelessness and frustration are valid, but sufferer need not surrender to them