Wednesday, July 18, 2018 by Ralph Flores
The term scleroderma refers to a group of diseases that cause abnormal growth of connective tissue. In particular, a scleroderma causes the skin and its connective tissues to be hard or thick, which can lead to muscle and joint pain.
Most cases of scleroderma affect the skin, but it can also damage other areas like blood vessels, internal organs, and the digestive tract.
There are two main forms of scleroderma:
- Localized scleroderma is found only in some areas of the skin and muscles. The condition is relatively mild, and internal organs are not usually affected. Common forms include morphea (waxy patches on the skin) and linear scleroderma (a streak of waxy skin that can interfere with joint movement).
- Systemic scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is a condition that affects connective tissue in areas other than the skin, including the esophagus, gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels), lungs, kidneys, heart and other internal organs. The progression of the disease varies, as thickening can occur more rapidly (diffuse scleroderma) or develop slowly over time (limited scleroderma). A common complication of this type of scleroderma is pulmonary hypertension, which is caused by a narrowing of the lung’s blood vessels.
Known risk factors and symptoms of scleroderma
Scleroderma is a rare condition – less than 500,000 people in the U.S. have it – but its etiology is unclear. However, experts have determined some potential risk factors for the condition.
- Women between the ages of 35–50, although it can still occur in children and older adults.
- Those with a family history of autoimmune disorders.
- Individuals who work with silica.
- People who take certain drugs which can cause a scleroderma-like reaction.
The mnemonic CREST indicates the typical symptoms of scleroderma.
- Calcium deposits in the connective tissues
- Raynaud’s phenomenon, which indicates a narrowing of blood vessels in the extremities
- Esophageal dysfunction – in particular, swelling
- Sclerodactyly or a tightening of the skin on the fingers
- Telangiectasia or “spider veins,” which are red spots on the hands and face
Body systems affected by scleroderma
Scleroderma can affect a wide range of body systems, with complications ranging from mild to severe.
- Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when scleroderma causes a scarring of the lung tissue. This can reduce lung function, making it more difficult to breathe. The condition can also decrease tolerance for physical activity.
- Renal failure could happen if the condition affects the kidneys. This can increase blood pressure and protein levels in the urine.
- Tissue damage, especially at the fingertips, is a complication of severe Raynaud’s phenomenon.
- Cardiovascular diseases such as arrhythmias and congestive heart failure can occur if a scleroderma causes hypertension.
- Acid reflux is also a common complication of scleroderma. In addition, a tightening of the facial skin can result in difficulties swallowing.
Food items or nutrients that may prevent or relieve scleroderma
People with scleroderma would do well to avoid consuming these food items, especially if they have the following symptoms.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. Avoid eating acidic foods such as tomatoes, as well as alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods and fatty foods. In addition, food should be eaten three hours before going to be to reduce acid reflux into the esophagus while lying down.
- Dysmotility and dysphagia. People who have difficulty swallowing and digesting food should avoid eating dry foods such as crackers and large pieces of meat and vegetables. One recommendation is to puree these foods to make them easier to swallow.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon and skin hardening. Preparing food can be difficult in these conditions; thus, it is recommended to buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables or seek assistance from a family member in food preparation.
In general, the consumption of nutrient-rich foods is essential to maintain overall health despite the condition.
Treatment and management options for scleroderma
Some natural management options suggested by DrWeil.com include:
- Regular aerobic exercise, as well as yoga, qigong, and tai chi
- Relaxation and other mind-body techniques, such as biofeedback, meditation, and imagery
- Using adaptive utensils to ease holding, gripping, and reaching
- Installing handrails in the bathroom and shower
Where to learn more
Scleroderma refers to a group of diseases that cause abnormal growth of connective tissue.
Scleroderma causes the skin and its connective tissues to be hard or thick, which can lead to muscle and joint pain.
Scleroderma affects the skin, blood vessels, internal organs, and the digestive tract.
Scleroderma is a rare condition
Symptoms of scleroderma can be identified with CREST: calcium deposits; Raynaud’s phenomenon; esophageal dysfunction; sclerodactyly; and telangiectasia.
Scleroderma can affect a wide range of body systems.