Symptom Relief and Treatment for Scleroderma

Rheumatology at Mercy - Baltimore, MD

The rheumatologists of Rheumatology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, provide care for a wide variety of rheumatoid diseases and conditions. Our rheumatologists diagnose scleroderma, a rare but chronic autoimmune disease, and work with patients to determine the best course of treatment based on their particular condition.

About the Condition

Scleroderma is a rare, chronic autoimmune disease in which normal tissue is replaced by hard, dense fibrous tissue. For reasons that are not fully understood, the immune system, which typically protects the body against disease and infection, triggers the cells to produce too much collagen. The overproduction and accumulation of collagen, a fibrous type of protein that makes up your body's connective tissues, can result in the hardening and thickening of skin and other organs.

Scleroderma most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, and affects women more often than men. 

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Symptoms & Diagnostic Process

The symptoms of scleroderma can vary depending on the affected area. In addition to the thickening of skin, the following other symptoms may occur in a person with scleroderma:

  • Tight, shiny facial skin
  • Red spots on the skin
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Ulcerations on the fingertips and toes
  • Pain and stiffness in the joints
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Digestive and gastrointestinal problems
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss

Diagnosing scleroderma can be difficult as it can affect many different areas of the body. Your rheumatologist may start with a physical examination, while also reviewing your medical history and status. A combination of tests, including imaging tests and blood tests, may also help your physician diagnose scleroderma.

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Treatment Options

There is no cure for scleroderma, so treatment is aimed at easing symptoms and improving quality of life. Mercy’s rheumatologists may prescribe medications to relieve symptoms such as acid reflux, pain or infections. Physical or occupational therapies may be recommended to manage pain and maintain strength and mobility. In very severe cases, surgery, such as a lung transplant, may be necessary to treat internal organs that have been affected by scleroderma.

Mercy’s experienced rheumatologists will help patients determine the best course of treatment based on their particular condition.