March 04 2021
What is Scleroderma?
Often misunderstood and unheard of by many, Scleroderma is an illness that causes hardening of your skin, hands face, and often other parts of your body. It may also damage other organs of your body like the lungs, kidney, digestive tract, hands, and face. This disease is a type of chronic and long-lasting autoimmune disorder where your body’s immune system starts attacking the healthy cells of your body instead of protecting them from harmful organisms. For some people, it might affect only the skin layer but in many people, it also affects the layers beyond the skin, that is, blood vessels, arteries, and even your vital organs like lungs, kidney, digestive tract or oesophagus, etc. This disease is extremely rare, even so, it has been said to occur among women more than men, between the ages of 30-50.
There are two kinds of systemic sclerosis or scleroderma: Limited systemic sclerosis or diffuse systemic sclerosis. The former has only skin as the primary target and the latter can affect other parts of the body like kidneys, lungs, and most internal organs. People who are affected by this are said to have abnormal immune proteins in the body which are called autoantibodies and also abnormally high accumulations of t cells in various parts of the body. They help in damaging the small arteries an\d blood vessels. The arterioles leak fluid and it causes swelling and release chemical factors that help in the stimulation of fibroblasts for producing too much collagen, which is a fibrous protein involved in scarring tissues.
What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?
This affects 5-10 per cent of the world population but according to studies only 1 in 10 seek treatment. This happens more to people who are living in colder areas. A critical medical condition in which the spasm of your blood vessels or arteries leads to less blood flow through them. The smaller arteries that transport blood to various organs constrict abnormally in response to cold weathers resulting in the area becoming numb.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s disease:
- The exaggerated cold response of toes and feet leading to the color change of the skin around it
- Prickly or a numb feeling during stress relief or warming
- Blood vessels constrict and often shut down
The link between Scleroderma and Raynaud’s
People who have Raynaud’s will not develop sclerosis which only affects lesser people that is 0.1% of those who have Raynaud’s. This is because people who are suffering from Raynaud’s have the primary type the symptoms of which are cold hands, feet, discoloration, and frequent painful attacks. However, secondary Raynaud’s can be a symptom of having sclerosis too. 95% of the people who were diagnosed with this reported that they have Raynaud’s.
Duration of this disease
The symptoms of this disease may come and go but the disease often stays for a lifetime. The swelling of the skin might last for a lesser period which is followed by the gradual formation of a thick layer of skin with time. In the case of the diffuse form of the disease, the symptoms worsen by the third year.
How does one get affected ?
Doctors and researchers haven’t discovered what exactly caused sclerosis or the abnormal collagen formation to start in the cells but the body’s failing immune system seems to play a massive role in this. The combination of factors that trigger this disease is immune system disabilities, environmental triggers, and sometimes genetics.
Common signs and symptoms
Although the symptoms of Scleroderma vary, some of the most common signs are given below, you are advised to visit the doctor for getting diagnosed in case of any visible symptom:
- Swelling of palms, the tip of fingers, hands, arms, forearms, face, and sometimes on the feet and legs. Skin thickening occurs, also called sclerodactyly and telangiectasia. Abnormally dry skin, dryness of the vagina
- Acid reflux, heartburn, and bloating
- Skin ulcers, calcium deposits on the skin.
- Localized swelling of the blood vessels.
- Hair fall
- Nailfold capillary abnormality
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Joints can become painfully stiff and swell up.
- Muscles can become extremely weak
- Kidney damage
- High blood pressure, seizures, less urine formation
- Dry eye syndrome
- Impotence or erectile dysfunction
- Severe pain in the face
Home remedies and lifestyle
- Try to stay active. Do exercises, avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Staying active maintains proper blood circulation in your body and keeps your skin and joints flexible.
- Take good care of your skin, moisturize it well, keep it clean and apply sunscreen whenever you are out in the sun. Avoid hot baths and steams, harsh chemicals, strong soaps that can further make your skin worse.
- Stop smoking. Nicotine present in cigarettes constricts your blood vessels and thus makes this condition worse.
- Practice good hygiene habits. Keep your teeth, gums, nails, and toes clean. Consult a doctor in case of infection immediately.
- Protect yourself from cold weather, wear mittens in case you are exposed to the cold.
- Physical therapies or occupational therapies can help you manage the excessive pain, improve your agility and strength, maintain proper blood circulation
- Try topical muscle pain relievers or natural supplements that will help you with both Raynaud’s phenomenon and sclerosis-related pains like Alvizia Evening primrose oil extracts. This will give you long-lasting relief from excessive joint pain and muscular aches.
- Over the top medicines as NSAIDs can also be taken under a doctor’s recommendation to relieve inflammation around joints, muscle lines of your heart, etc. Prevent infections of fingertip ulcers and dress even the smallest cut on your body so that it doesn’t turn into an infection.
Although there is no particular medication to help an individual with this disease, early diagnosis, and evaluation (Capillaroscopy) might improve the survival rates and multiple organ failure. Medications like immunosuppressive drugs, anti-fibrotic agents, steroids, and protein pump inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, oxygen therapies, antibiotics are generally recommended. Thus, you need to visit your doctor even if the slightest symptom occurs as early detection and immediate clinical intervention of this disease is important for making a difference.