Scleroderma is a group of diseases caused by abnormal growth of connective tissue, which supports your skin and internal organs. The abnormal growth is caused by an overproduction of collagen, a protein that provides structure to your skin and connective tissue, including bones, cartilage, and fat.
There are two main forms of the disease:
- Localized scleroderma: affects the skin and sometimes the underlying muscles
- Systemic scleroderma: affects the skin and tissues beneath, including muscles, blood vessels, and major organs
The symptoms of scleroderma will depend on the type and the area of the body that’s affected, though nearly everyone with the disease will have symptoms that affect the skin:
- Blood pressure: high blood pressure, caused by stiff or narrowed vessels, which can cause damage in the lung arteries (pulmonary hypertension) and the kidneys
- Skin: patches of tight or hardened skin, which can vary in size and shape
- Digestive system: difficulty swallowing, acid reflux, and episodes of constipation alternating with diarrhea
- Fingers and toes: Thickening or tightening of skin on the fingers and toes (sclerodactyly), and pain and numbness in the fingers and toes in response to cold or stress (Raynaud's phenomenon)
- Heart: irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), heart failure, swelling of the heart lining (pericarditis), and fluid around the heart
- Joints and muscles: stiffness, swelling, and pain in the joints, and muscle swelling and weakness (primarily upper arms or thighs)
Rheumatologists at University of Miami Health System have advanced experience diagnosing and treating scleroderma, which can often be difficult to identify when symptoms are mild or absent. We design a customized treatment to relieve your symptoms and give you comprehensive care. With locations throughout South Florida, you can get personalized treatment that’s close to home.
Doctors use a range of medicines to stop the immune system from attacking healthy tissues, including:
- Corticosteroids: slow the body's immune response to relieve swelling and pain
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): suppress the immune system broadly to prevent swelling
- Genetically engineered biologics: a newer type of DMARD that targets specific immune functions
Some of the medicines can be taken orally, but others are given as an injection.
Physical and Occupational Therapies
A physical therapist can help you improve muscle strength and flexibility with specially designed stretches and exercises. Your doctor may also send you to an occupational therapist, who can teach you easier ways of performing everyday tasks and introduce you to assistive devices — such as zipper pulls or buttoning aids — if your finger joints are affected.
Vascular Disease Medicines
Medicines that improve blood circulation can improve blood flow to the skin and organs, preventing tissue damage. They can be used to treat blood vessel thickening or spasms (a sudden tightening that restricts blood flow), or prevent blood clots from forming in vessels. These medicines can also help prevent lung and kidney problems, and treat Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Doctors use a variety of blood tests to help diagnose scleroderma, including tests that look for swelling (erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein test) and antibodies (blood proteins) associated with the disease.
Your doctor may take a small sample of your skin tissue to confirm your diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment.
Your doctor may do other tests to check for problems in your organs. Examples include breathing tests (pulmonary function tests) or a CT scan of your lungs, or an ultrasound exam of your heart (echocardiogram).
Why Choose UHealth?
The latest treatments for scleroderma and other rheumatic diseases. Scleroderma is a rare condition, so it’s important to work with an experienced team. Our rheumatologists are also researchers, so you get care from specialists on the leading edge of scleroderma treatment.
Comprehensive care from a team of specialists. Scleroderma affects different areas of your body, so our rheumatologists work with doctors in a full range of medical specialties to address all the problems that can arise as a result of the disease. You get comprehensive, coordinated care from dermatologists, gastroenterologists, vascular specialists, pulmonologists (lung diseases), nephrologists (kidney diseases), cardiologists, and others as needed.
Specialized care to improve your quality of life. Your team will educate you about scleroderma and help you learn how to manage symptoms with a nutritious diet, exercise, proper skincare, and other healthy lifestyle habits. We make sure you have the support and resources you need to cope with scleroderma. You won’t face this alone.
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