Scleroderma is a rheumatic, autoimmune disease that affects the body's connective tissue, mainly the skin and joints. The condition's name itself means "hard skin."
With this autoimmune disorder, the body's immune system begins to see its own skin and joints as foreign bodies, producing too much collagen, which can affect the body's function.
Scleroderma affects more than 300,000 Americans and can be painful. A person living with scleroderma should seek treatment to help relieve the symptoms of this chronic condition.
Patients can also engage in some self-care for treating scleroderma. We've put together a list of self-care options for treating scleroderma, but first, let's review the signs and symptoms of this chronic condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Scleroderma
Scleroderma can affect the entire body. To diagnose the severity, doctors use diagnostic tests, including reviewing organ function and doing upper GI assessments.
The most common test performed is the skin pinch test — called a modified Rodnan skin score (mRSS) — to check the thickness of the skin. The doctor will lightly pinch the effected area and give it a score from zero to three.
The thicker the skin, the higher the score. A score of two or above is considered a severe case of scleroderma.
Other signs and symptoms of scleroderma include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Paleness in fingertips
- Numbness and tingling
- Taut, shiny, or dark skin
- Decreased joint mobility
- Calcium bumps
- Sores on the joints
These symptoms can affect joints in your fingers, wrists, or elbows. Long-term affects can include heart failure, scarring of the lungs, and kidney issues.
How to Reduce the Signs and Symptoms of Scleroderma
Doctors can treat scleroderma and help patients manage their symptoms. While there is no cure for this autoimmune disease and the causes are unknown, patients have self-care options that can limit the long-term damage caused by scleroderma.
Nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroids help relieve minor pain associated with scleroderma. We recommend taking Tylenol, Ibuprofen or Aleve or another form of over the counter (OTC) pain medication to relieve minor pain. Always consult with your doctor before adding an OTC regimen to your medications.
Scleroderma can impact blood flow. Therefore, patients with high blood pressure should talk to their doctor about medications that can lower their blood pressure.
There are also prescription medications you can take to suppress your immune system and reduce scleroderma symptoms.
For itchiness, a common symptom of this condition, using over-the-counter lotions free from fragrance is best.
Therapy and Exercise
Patients with scleroderma should incorporate exercise and physical therapy into their routine to maintain mobility in their joints and to retain muscle strength. Exercise will also improve blood flow.
While there is no diet for scleroderma patients specifically, doctors recommend some changes to the diet help relieve scleroderma symptoms. These include:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Eat smaller meals more frequently
- Eat fresh, natural foods
- Cut down on added sugars
- Adding herbs and spices
- Taking supplements and multivitamins
Seeking Treatment for Scleroderma
Scleroderma is a chronic condition that will last throughout your lifetime. While there is no cure, with treatment and proper diet, it can go into remission.
While no two patients experience the same symptoms, physical therapy is one of the best treatments for managing the short-term symptoms and the long-term effects of scleroderma.
At Southwest Florida Rheumatology, our experienced rheumatologists will work with you to put together a treatment plan for your condition.
It will include scleroderma physical therapy, a dietary plan to reduce symptoms, and a self-care program to help you manage your condition.Looking for relief from scleroderma symptoms? Contact us today to speak to a scleroderma specialists about treatment. Visit one of our three locations, Riverview, Sun City, and Wesley Chapel.