What If Lung or Heart Damage Occurs With Scleroderma?
About 10 to 15 percent of people with systemic sclerosis develop severe lung disease, which comes in two forms:
- Pulmonary fibrosis (hardening or scarring of lung tissue because of excess collagen)
- Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the artery that carries blood from the heart to the lungs).
The two conditions are treated differently. Pulmonary fibrosis may be treated with drugs that suppress the immune system, such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®) or azathioprine (Imuran®), along with low doses of corticosteroids. Pulmonary hypertension may be treated with drugs that dilate the blood vessels, such as prostacyclin or iloprost.
To minimize lung complications, work closely with your medical team and implement the following scleroderma treatment options:
- Watch for signs of lung disease, including fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and swollen feet. Report these symptoms to your doctor.
- Have your lungs closely checked, using standard lung-function tests, during the early stages of skin thickening. These tests, which can find problems at the earliest and most treatable stages, are needed, because lung damage can occur even before you notice any symptoms.
- Get regular flu and pneumonia vaccines. Contracting either illness could be dangerous for a person with lung disease.
Scleroderma Treatment for Heart Problems
About 15 to 20 percent of people with systemic sclerosis develop heart problems, including scarring and weakening of the heart (cardiomyopathy), inflamed heart muscle (myocarditis), and abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia). All of these problems can be treated with options ranging from drugs to surgery, and vary depending on the nature of the condition.