Scleroderma: What You Need To Know

sclerodermaScleroderma, or SCL, literally means hard skin.

This comes from the Greek words sclerosis, translating as hardness, and derma, meaning skin.

SCL is listed as a “rare” disease, and it is estimated that 1 out of every 2500 individuals in the United States have it.

Scleroderma is a group of rare diseases which involves the buildup of scar-like tissue within the skin.

This disease damages the cells which line the walls of the small arteries.

In some cases, SCL affects only the skin.  For others it may affect the blood vessels, the digestive tract and even internal organs.

95% of people who have SCL have Raynaud’s disease, a condition characterized by the narrowing of smaller arteries which limits blood circulation.

Localized vs Systemic

There are two main types of SCL, namely localized and systemic.

While localized affects only certain parts of the body, systemic can affect the whole body.

Localized SCL primarily affects the skin whereas systemic SCL not only affects the skin, but the internal organs too.

CREST syndrome is a limited form of systemic sclerosis.

Who Is At Risk?scleroderma-diagnosis

This condition is generally quite rare and, unfortunately incurable, but there are many treatments which may help.

Females between the ages of 30 – 50 are at highest risk.

Woman with SCL out-number male patients 4 to 1.

Twins and family members of those with SCL or other autoimmune connective tissue diseases, such as lupus, may have a slightly higher risk of being diagnosed.

Scleroderma is not directly inherited, but studies indicate that there is a slight predisposition to families with a history of rheumatic disease.

Children can also develop SCL, but the disease is different than adults.

Localized SCL is found to be more common in children while systemic scleroderma being more common in adults.

Besides these factors, other factors such as race and ethnic background can influence the risk of getting scleroderma.

Symptoms Of Scleroderma

Depending on which part of the body is affected, symptoms will vary from patient to patient.

Signs of the disease include hardening or tightening of the skin, acid reflux, numb fingers and numb, painful toes.

If the disease has spread to the heart, kidneys or lungs, SCL can be life-threatening.

Blood pressure monitoring and control is essential.


Almost everyone with scleroderma experiences hardening and tightening of skin patches.

Patches may be shaped like ovals or straight lines.

The location and size of patches vary.

Skin may appear shiny while movement of the affected area may be restricted.

Fingers & Toesfingers-toes

Scleroderma in its early stages creates sensitivity to cold temperatures.

This causes numbness, pain and color changes in the fingers or toes.

Digestive Systems

In addition to acid reflux, some people with scleroderma may have problems absorbing nutrients if their intestinal muscles aren’t moving food properly through the intestines.

Heart, Lungs Or Kidneys

Although rare, scleroderma can affect the function of the heart, lungs or kidneys.

This could become life-threatening.

How Is It Diagnosed?

The cause of scleroderma is unknown.

It is neither contagious nor a degenerative disease.

The disease is diagnosed through a variety of different methods:

  • Medical history
  • A skin biopsy
  • Lab tests
  • A physical exam


lifestyle-exerciseIn order to manage scleroderma effectively, you need to exercise and stay active.

Try to kick the smoking habit and manage heartburn by avoiding certain foods.

Remember,  protection from the cold is essential.

A patient’s prognosis is optimized by paying close attention to overall health.

If you would like more information on effective treatments, please read Natural Treatments for Scleroderma.