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Scleroderma is a chronic autoimmune disease in which there is excessive production of collagen, leading to hardening of the skin and affecting the joints, muscles, blood vessels and some internal organs such as the lungs and heart.
This disease mainly affects women over 30 years of age, but it can also occur in men and children, and is divided into two types, localized and systemic scleroderma, according to their intensity. Scleroderma has no cure and its treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease.
Symptoms of scleroderma
Symptoms of scleroderma evolve over time and, according to the location of symptoms, scleroderma can be classified into:
- Systemic, in which symptoms manifest on the skin and internal organs, being considered the most severe form of scleroderma;
- Localized,where symptoms are restricted to the skin.
In general, the main symptoms related to scleroderma are:
- Skin thickening and stiffness;
- Constant swelling of fingers and hands;
- Blackening of fingers in cold places or during episodes of excessive stress, also known as Raynaud's phenomenon;
- Constant itching in the affected region;
- Hair loss;
- Very dark and very light spots on the skin;
- Appearance of red spots on the face.
The first manifestations of the disease start on the hands and after months or years pass to the face, leaving the skin hardened, without elasticity and without wrinkles, which also makes it difficult to fully open the mouth.In addition, in cases of systemic scleroderma, the person may also have increased blood pressure, poor digestion, shortness of breath, weight loss with no apparent cause, liver and heart changes.
Scleroderma complications are related to the beginning of treatment and are more frequent in people who have the systemic form of the disease. So, when the treatment is not done according to the doctor's advice, the person develops some complications such as difficulty moving the fingers, swallowing or breathing, anemia, arthritis, heart problems and kidney failure, for example.
How the diagnosis is made
The diagnosis of scleroderma is difficult, as the symptoms evolve slowly and can be confused with other skin problems. Confirmation of the disease must be made by the dermatologist or rheumatologist, taking into account the signs and symptoms presented by the person, and the results of imaging and laboratory tests.
Thus, a CT scan or chest X-ray and skin biopsy may be indicated by the doctor, in addition to the ANA test, which is a laboratory test that aims to identify the presence of circulating autoantibodies in the blood.
Scleroderma has no cure and, therefore, treatment aims to prevent the progression of the disease, relieve symptoms and promote the person's quality of life. The treatment indicated by the rheumatologist or dermatologist may vary according to the type of scleroderma and symptoms presented by the person, and the use of some medicines may be indicated according to the case, which can be applied directly to the skin or ingested, such as immunosuppressants or corticosteroids..
For people who have Raynaud's phenomenon as one of the symptoms of scleroderma, it is also recommended that they keep their extremities warm.
In addition, as scleroderma can be related to stiffening of joints, physiotherapy sessions may also be indicated to increase joint flexibility, reduce pain, prevent contractures and maintain the function and amplitude of the members.