What is systemic sclerosis?
Systemic sclerosis causes scarring in your skin, joints, organs, and blood vessels.
Systemic sclerosis is rare
It is more common in women than in men and usually happens in people ages 20 to 50
Systemic sclerosis can cause tightening and hardening of the skin and damage to other organs
You may have problems in only one part of your body or have problems with multiple organs throughout your body
Systemic sclerosis gets worse over time, but treatment can lessen your symptoms
What causes systemic sclerosis?
Systemic sclerosis happens when your tissue makes too much collagen and other proteins. Collagen is a protein that helps give structure to your skin, nails, hair, tendons, and other tissue. Too much collagen can cause hardening and scarring.
Doctors don’t know what causes systemic sclerosis to happen.
What are the symptoms of systemic sclerosis?
Symptoms can include:
Swelling, thickening, and tightening of the skin, usually in your fingers
Fingers that get pale, tingly, and numb when you get cold ( Raynaud syndrome Raynaud Syndrome Raynaud syndrome is a problem with blood flow in your fingers and rarely your toes. Blood vessels in your fingers close up too much The ends of your fingers turn pale and blue and feel numb... read more )
Shortness of breath
Aches and pains in your joints
Sometimes, muscle pain and weakness
Systemic sclerosis can cause too much scarring to build up in other organs of the body, such as the joints, lungs, digestive system, heart, and kidneys, and stop them from working right. When it damages blood vessels, blood pressure can go up.
Some people with these symptoms also have mixed connective tissue disease Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD) Mixed connective tissue disease is a term used by some doctors to describe a disorder characterized by features of systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, and polymyositis. Raynaud... read more .
How can doctors tell if I have systemic sclerosis?
Doctors ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. They may do tests, such as:
Echocardiogram Echocardiography and Other Ultrasound Procedures Echocardiography can be used to detect abnormalities in heart wall motion and to measure the volume of blood being pumped from the heart with each beat. This procedure can also detect abnormalities... read more (a type of ultrasound that uses sound waves to create a video that shows how well your heart is pumping and how well your heart’s valves are working)
ECG Electrocardiography Electrocardiography is a test that measures your heart’s electrical activity. It's quick, painless, and harmless. The results of that test are shown in an electrocardiogram. It looks like a... read more (a test that measures your heart’s electrical currents and records them on a piece of paper)
How do doctors treat systemic sclerosis?
Medicine can’t stop systemic sclerosis from getting worse over time, but it can help with some symptoms. Treatments include:
NSAIDs (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) to help with joint pain
Medicine to keep your immune system from damaging your tissues
Medicine to lessen heartburn
Medicine to dilate your blood vessels and lower blood pressure
Physical therapy and exercise