Systemic sclerosis (SS) is an autoimmune disorder. This means it’s a condition in which the immune system attacks the body. Healthy tissue is destroyed because the immune system mistakenly thinks it’s a foreign substance or infection. There are many kinds of autoimmune disorders that can affect different body systems.
SS is characterized by changes in the texture and appearance of the skin. This is due to increased collagen production. Collagen is a component of connective tissue.
But the disorder isn’t confined to skin changes. It can affect your:
Features of systemic sclerosis can appear in other autoimmune disorders. When this occurs, it’s called a mixed connective disorder.
The disease is typically seen in people 30 to 50 years old, but it can be diagnosed at any age. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with this condition. The symptoms and severity of the condition vary from one person to another based on the systems and organs involved.
Systemic sclerosis is also called scleroderma, progressive systemic sclerosis, or CREST syndrome. “CREST” stands for:
CREST syndrome is a limited form of the disorder.
SS may only affect the skin in the early stages of the disease. You may notice your skin thickening and shiny areas developing around your mouth, nose, fingers, and other bony areas.
As the condition progresses, you may begin start to have limited movement of the affected areas. Other symptoms include:
You may begin to experience spasms of the blood vessels in your fingers and toes. Then, your extremities may turn white and blue when you’re in the cold or feeling extreme emotional stress. This is called Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Risk factors that can increase your chances of developing the condition include:
Treatment can’t cure the condition, but it can help reduce symptoms and slow disease progression. Treatment is typically based on a person’s symptoms and the need to prevent complications.
Treatment for generalized symptoms may involve:
Depending on your symptoms, treatment can also include:
You can make lifestyle changes to stay healthy with scleroderma, such as avoiding smoking cigarettes, remaining physically active, and avoiding foods that trigger heartburn.