Scleroderma is a disease that not many people talk about, but an estimated 300,000 Americans have the condition. One of the most visible symptoms of scleroderma is hardening of the skin, which can affect a person’s self-image and lead to embarrassment. Here are some common myths about scleroderma.
Myth: Scleroderma affects only the skin.
Fact: Scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease, which can affect everything from the skin and blood vessels to internal organs. It causes tissue to become hard and thick and can also cause swelling and pain in the muscles and joints.
There also are different types of scleroderma--localized and systemic. Localized means the disease affects only certain parts of the body, typically the skin. This type doesn’t harm major organs and may get better without treatment. In other cases it may be severe and leave skin damage. Systemic means the disease can affect the whole body, including skin, tissue, blood vessels and major organs.
Myth: Scleroderma is contagious.
Fact: Scleroderma is not contagious. It is generally considered an autoimmune rheumatic disease. People with scleroderma usually consult rheumatologists and/or dermatologists depending on what parts of the body are affected by the disease.
Myth: Only adults can develop scleroderma.
Fact: Anyone can get scleroderma, including children. But, localized scleroderma is more common in children and systemic scleroderma is more common in adults. Most localized types show up before the age of 40 and systemic types show up between ages 30 and 50. Women are more likely to get the disease than men and race and ethnic background may influence the risk of getting it.
Myth: Scleroderma can be cured.
Fact: There is no cure for scleroderma but treatments can help manage symptoms. Some people with mild disease may not need treatment and sometimes people can even stop treatment if their disease is no longer active.
Myth: Scleroderma is easy to diagnose.
Fact: Scleroderma can be difficult to diagnose because it causes symptoms similar to other autoimmune disease. Many cases are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for this reason. It’s easier to diagnose scleroderma if the person has common skin symptoms associated with the disease or If their skin begins to thicken quickly.
Myth: Scleroderma is genetic.
Fact: Researchers do not believe that scleroderma is passed through genes from parent to child. But there may be a susceptibility gene, which raises the risk of developing scleroderma but does not actually cause it to develop.
Myth: A small fraction of people with scleroderma also have Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Fact: In fact, most people with scleroderma (more than 90 percent) also have Raynaud’s phenomenon. Raynaud’s phenomenon is caused by the body’s overreaction to cold. When the body is exposed to cold the normal response is to slow the loss of heat and preserve core temperature. This occurs when blood vessels in the skin’s surface constrict and move blood deeper into the body. But for people with Raynaud’s, those blood vessels overreact to cold exposure, causing spasms and contractions. During the attack the fingers and toes may feel numb and skin color may change.
Scleroderma Foundation. “What is scleroderma?” Retrieved from http://www.scleroderma.org/site/PageNavigator/patients_whatis.html#.U5npYkDyQ0k
N.A. (2010, August).”What is Scleroderma?” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Scleroderma/scleroderma_ff.asp
N.A. (2012, August). “Questions and Answers about Raynaud’s Phenomenon.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved from http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Raynauds_Phenomenon/default.asp
Published On: June 13, 2014