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What is Scleroderma?

Have you ever heard of scleroderma?  This is a rare condition that is increasing in frequency.  It causes progressive fibrosis of the skin and internal organs.  It is 3 to 4 times more common in women than men, particularly younger African American women, but it can affect anyone.  The cause is unknown, but researchers suggest that environmental and genetic factors play a role.  Silicone breast implants were once targeted as a cause, but have been shown to be unrelated.

In typical cases, patients first develop skin thickening on the fingers or elsewhere.  Patients may complain of cold, swelling, and puffy fingers and hands.  Arthritic symptoms are also common throughout the body.  As the disease progresses, additional organs are affected such as the heart, esophagus, joints, muscles, and lungs.  Patients can develop sudden severe high blood pressure and even kidney failure.  There is no specific blood test for the diagnosis, although many different tests will be abnormal.  Even worse, there is currently no specific therapy available to treat or cure this disease, other than treating the various organ systems affected.  Prognosis is poor, with estimated 5 year survival rates ranging from 37% to 73%.  The good news is that this is one of several diseases increasingly being studied due to an increased awareness of the need for more women's health research. 

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Created: 3/13/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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