It’s an autoimmune disorder that can cause your skin to become tight and your joints to ache. Dr. Matxalen Amezaga, a rheumatologist with Lee Health, says scleroderma is most common in women. “Sometimes it can cause difficulty moving the joints because of tightening of the skin. Sometimes the appearance of your face can change and that can be very disturbing for a patient. The mouth can be so tight they have difficulty opening the mouth and sometimes problems swallowing depending on if it’s affecting the muscles in the neck as well.”
It can also change the way your skin looks and feels. “Your immune system seems to be confused, attacking certain places of your body, particularly the skin, the joints, and sometimes the muscles,” said Dr. Amezaga.
Patients with scleroderma can also suffer from severe heartburn, lung problems, even a circulation problem called Raynaud’s. “Around 90 percent of patients with scleroderma have Raynaud’s which is basically a deregulation of the blood vessels in the hands and the toes. It’s particularly triggered by cold and stress. The blood vessels would react too fast and in an irregular manner and they would turn blue first, then very white, then very red. It’s very painful and you can have numbness and depending on how long it lasts you can actually compromise the blood flow to the finger tips,” said Dr. Amezaga.
While it’s unclear what causes scleroderma, doctors believe there could be a genetic link. “Most patients will be manageable even though we cannot cure, we can improve their quality of life by treating their symptoms,” said Dr. Amezaga.
Patients are encouraged to exercise and stretch regularly to help prevent muscle pain and joint stiffness. “When you are suffering from skin thickening to try to keep your tendons and your joints stretched gently and to try to keep your body in good shape,” said Dr. Amezaga.
While there’s no cure, doctors can help patients manage the symptoms.
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