Scleroderma is a chronic, autoimmune disease that most often strikes women between the ages of 25 to 55; men and children are also susceptible to it, but it is rare. An estimated 300,000 people in the U.S. have the disease in one of its forms.
Scleroderma can cause thickening and tightening of your skin due to collagen buildup. It can also attack your heart, lungs, kidneys and digestive tract.
Symptoms of Scleroderma
In addition to skin thickening and tightening, other common symptoms may include:
- Raynaud’s Phenomenon – a condition in which the small blood vessels in your hands or feet contract in response to cold or anxiety. As the vessels contract, your hands or feet turn white and cold, then blue. Learn More About Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
- General fatigue
- Stiffness in your hands and feet
- Heartburn or digestive problems
- Shortness of breath or dry cough
- Difficulty swallowing
Since the cause of scleroderma is unknown, prevention of the disease is difficult. There are, however, measures you can take to soothe your symptoms:
- Stay active. Exercise keeps your body flexible, improves circulation and relieves stiffness. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Change your eating habits. Enjoy well-balanced meals and maintain a sensible weight. Eat smaller, more frequent meals to reduce your risk of heartburn. Also avoid late-night meals, spicy foods, fatty foods, alcohol and caffeine. Eating Well with Scleroderma.
- Take care of your skin. Avoid using harsh soaps. After bathing or showering, use bath oils or moisturizing lotions to keep your skin soft. A cold-water room humidifier can also keep your skin moist.
- Reduce stress. Chronic stress is thought to be a trigger for the development of autoimmune diseases. Learn to relax and minimize stress.
- Avoid smoking. If you smoke, stop. Smoking is dangerous if you have scleroderma because it can affect blood circulation and lung function.
- See your doctor often. Visit your doctor regularly to monitor and treat your conditions.