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Scleroderma - systemic sclerosis

Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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When to seek medical advice

If you're experiencing the early signs and symptoms of scleroderma — numbness, pain or color changes in the skin of your extremities, gradual hardening and tightening of your skin, and stiffness or pain in your joints — see your doctor. It's important to establish a diagnosis early before the disease progresses and to determine if the condition has affected your internal organs.

Screening and diagnosis

Scleroderma can be difficult to diagnose. It's rare and, early on, it can affect the skin as well as the joints, making it look like other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Lupus is another connective tissue disease that can cause inflammation of the joints and kidneys, and rashes.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor will review your medical history and conduct a physical examination. As part of the examination, your doctor will look at your skin, checking for thickened and hardened areas. Your doctor also may examine and touch some of your joints and tendons to check for possible changes in connective tissue beneath your skin. Because Raynaud's phenomenon is commonly a sign of scleroderma, your doctor will look for color changes in your skin that may indicate Raynaud's.

Your doctor may also conduct the following tests:

  • Blood tests. People with scleroderma have elevated blood levels of certain antibodies produced by the immune system.

  • Tissue sample. Your doctor may remove a small tissue sample (biopsy) of your affected skin to be examined in the laboratory for abnormalities.

In addition, your doctor may have you undergo a number of other diagnostic tests if he or she suspects that you may have lung, heart or gastrointestinal complications accompanying scleroderma.


Having systemic scleroderma may result in a number of other health conditions:

  • Gastrointestinal complications. Wasting occurs in the muscular walls of your intestine. This can reduce absorption of nutrients and movement within the intestine, resulting in weight loss and malnutrition. When scleroderma affects the muscular lining of your esophagus, heartburn can occur.

  • Lung complications. Scarring of lung tissue (pulmonary fibrosis) can result in reduced lung function, increased breathing difficulty and reduced tolerance for exercise. You may also develop high blood pressure in the arteries to your lungs (pulmonary hypertension).

  • Kidney complications. When scleroderma affects your kidneys, the result may be elevation in blood pressure and an increased level of protein in your urine. More serious effects of kidney complications may include a renal crisis, which involves a sudden increase in blood pressure and rapid kidney failure.

  • Heart complications. Scarring of heart tissue increases your risk of heart arrhythmias and congestive heart failure and can inflame the membranous sac surrounding your heart (pericarditis).


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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
In no event will The DrEddyClinic.com be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided through this web site.



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