June is Scleroderma Awareness Month. So, today we’re going to be talking about scleroderma. Scleroderma is kind of off the radar for most people, unless they know someone who has been affected by it. The point of this blog is to raise awareness and educate people about things that commonly affect others. But, it is also to raise awareness for illnesses and causes that people may not know. For this reason, the mission of this awareness blog is to familiarize people with an array of causes so that we can create a more knowledgeable and understanding society, with a culture of inclusion and acceptance.
What is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune means that the body attacks itself. Normal immune systems are designed to fight off foreign bodies, like a virus or bacteria, to keep you healthy. Autoimmune diseases mistakenly attack normal healthy cells/tissue in the body. This causes an inflammatory response. Inflammation, over time, causes damage to the area in which it occurs. For example, inflammation in the knees over a long period of time may lead to knee pain due to damage or other joint problems. All autoimmune diseases share this trait, but the way in which the body attacks itself or where it attacks itself is unique. If you’ve read my first few awareness blog posts, you’ll recognize this metaphor: Autoimmune diseases are all the same ice cream, just different flavors. So, what are the characteristics of scleroderma flavor?
Characteristics of Scleroderma
Scleroderma is a chronic illness, meaning that there is no cure for the disease. Scleroderma is a skin disease which causes the body to produce too much collagen. It causes the skin to thicken and feel tight. This thickening can occur internally, too, leading to tissue damage and organ function impairment. Scars may form on the lungs or kidneys, and blood vessels may thicken and harden leading to serious circulatory issues.
There are two categories of scleroderma, which are called localized scleroderma and systemic scleroderma. The difference is between them lies in how much of the body is affected. Each category has different classifications. We’re going to look at them in more depth now.
The first category of scleroderma, called localized scleroderma, breaks down into two different types. The first type of localized scleroderma is called morphea. The second type of scleroderma is linear. Localized scleroderma usually affects the skin. Morphea causes patches on the skin to form. These patches are hard and oval shaped that start off in a reddish-purple color and then turn white in the middle. Rarely, morphea can affect the blood vessels or internal organs; this is called generalized morphea. Linear scleroderma appears in lines, as the name suggests. With linear scleroderma, the thickened skin appears in streaks across the face, arms, or legs.
The second category of scleroderma is systemic scleroderma, which can also be referred to as generalized scleroderma. There are also two different types of systemic scleroderma. The first type of systemic scleroderma is called limited scleroderma. Limited scleroderma doesn’t show up one day out of nowhere. It develops slowly across the skin on the hands, feet, or face. Limited scleroderma can also affect internal organs, such as the lungs, intestines, or esophagus. When this occurs, it is called CREST syndrome.
CREST syndrome stands for calcinosis, Raynaud phenomenon, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly and telangiectasia. These are the symptoms that make up the syndrome. This damage in the internal organs can become very serious. Scleroderma gradually hardens the organs until they no longer function. It’s almost as if the organs become frozen. As you can imagine, as the disease progresses in the organs, surgery may become necessary to bypass the non-functioning organ.
Surgical procedures may include a feeding tube or ostomy bag. Although potentially very serious, the prognosis for many limited scleroderma patients is good. The disease is progressive, and does worsen over time, so it is important to have regular medical care to monitor the progress of the disease. Diffuse scleroderma is the second type of systemic scleroderma. Diffuse scleroderma develops quickly, as opposed to limited scleroderma. It affects the trunk of the body in addition to the extremities. Diffuse scleroderma can also affects the organs in the same ways as limited scleroderma.
Scleroderma Awareness Month Educates about the Symptoms of Scleroderma
Educate yourself during Scleroderma Awareness Month. Symptoms of scleroderma are unique to each patient. Not every patient will present with the same symptoms in the same way. Symptoms usually present in some combination and degree of the following symptoms.
Learn About Symptoms During Scleroderma Awareness Month
- Thick, smooth, and shiny skin, most commonly on the face or hands.
- Raynaud’s syndrome, or Raynaud’s phenomenon, can be a component of scleroderma. Raynaud’s is characterized by fingers and toes that turn white, blue or red and feel unusually cold. Fingertips may develop sores or ulcers.
- Telangiectasias, which looks like a bunch of little red dots on the chest or face. These little red spots are open blood vessels.
- Swollen, painful, or puffy toes and fingers.
- Swollen, painful joints.
- Weakness of muscles.
- Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes dryness. This dryness typically occurs in the mouth or eyes.
- Edema, which basically just means swelling, in the fingers and hands.
- Feeling short of breath.
- Weight loss.
Almost all patients who have scleroderma have some sort of skin involvement. One of the first symptoms that occurs in scleroderma is Raynaud’s phenomenon. You may notice that your fingers and toes become cold and numb, and even painful, when you experience stress or become upset. When exposed to something cold, for instance an icy soda can, this may also occur. In some types of scleroderma, there are digestive symptoms. The most notable symptoms of this include acid reflux, malabsorption of nutrients, or difficulty moving food through the intestines. Some scleroderma can affect the heart, lungs and kidneys. If not treated, organ involvement may become life threatening.
A doctor can diagnose scleroderma by doing a physical examination, going over your health history, taking x-rays, running blood tests, pulmonary function tests, CT scans, echocardiograms, and/or a biopsy. Diagnosis may require any or all of these tests. Most people with scleroderma are women. Diagnosis typically occurs between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. Doctors are unsure of what causes the disease, other than autoimmune system dysfunction. Most autoimmune diseases have no specific “cause”. Genetic predisposition plays a role in the development of autoimmune disease in some patients, but not all.
Treating Scleroderma Symptoms – Scleroderma Awareness Month
There are many different ways to deal with the symptoms of scleroderma, and treat the disease. First, there are many medications that can help alleviate or prevent the symptoms of the disease. Rheumatologists, the doctors that treat autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma, can use immunosuppressant medications to suppress an overactive immune system. They also use medicines that dilate blood vessels to prevent problems in the lungs or kidneys. This, too, may help with Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Acid reflux medicines are used to prevent acid reflux. Treating and preventing infections or viruses can also be used to prevent further damage to the lungs. Physicians may prescribe pain relievers when over-the-counter medicines are not effective. Doctors may also prescribe other types of therapy. These include physical and occupational therapy and can be very helpful in managing pain, improving mobility. These therapies also help patients develop coping skills to maintain their independence.
Compassion and Understanding During Scleroderma Awareness Month
To sum up this blog, scleroderma is tough disease, made even tougher by the fact that many have no idea what it is or how it affects people. Thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit about it. By choosing to educate yourself, you create a little bit more compassion and understanding in the world.
Personalized Cause Awareness Blog for Scleroderma Awareness Month
If you are new to our awareness blog, welcome! If you’re reading this, that means you’ve found our website. You may be wondering what we do here.
All in all, Personalized Cause® is an awareness accessory company that specializes in custom awareness ribbons. Since custom awareness ribbons are a product unique to our business, you may be wondering what they are. Custom awareness ribbons are awareness ribbons that you can personalize with a name, date, phrase, or message. We are the only company in the U.S. to offer our customers the ability to customize individual awareness ribbons, without requiring a bulk order. That means you can order just one custom ribbon if that’s all you want. You can also order a bunch, with all different personalization. It’s completely up to you. We also carry classic awareness ribbons, fabric ribbons, and silicone wristbands. For this reason, we’re your one stop awareness shop! Take a look around the site to see all of our products.
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