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What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that affects over 300,000 Americans-yet there is still no known cause, definitive treatment, or cure.

As with all autoimmune diseases, the body's own immune system attacks itself.  In scleroderma the site of attack is the body's connective tissue.  Over-production of collagen (the fibrous substance that makes up connective tissue) results. In its most severe form, the disease attacks skin and internal organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys. "Localized" scleroderma on the other hand is relatively mild and does not affect internal organs.

There are a number of theories about the causes of scleroderma ranging from the genetic predispositions to environmental factors. For unknown reasons, more than 80 percent of sufferers are women between the ages of 25 and 55 years old.

A common first symptom of scleroderma is Raynaud's phenomenon, in which fingertips and feet overreact to cold or stress by changing color:  from blue, to white, then red.  Other symptoms of scleroderma may include:  thickening of the skin, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, stiff hands, and joint or bone pain.
Scleroderma symptoms often mimic other disorders, and they vary from person to person. As a result, this condition is often misdiagnosed.

For more information, click here.

Created: 8/22/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/30/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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