Scleroderma involves the abnormal growth of connective tissue that supports the skin and internal organs. For some people, hard, tight skin is the extent of this abnormal process. For others, the problem goes deeper, affecting blood vessels and internal organs. Symptoms vary based on both the type and subtype of scleroderma a person has. Because there is no cure, treatment is designed to relieve symptoms and minimize damage.
Scleroderma is a disease in which the skin becomes progressively hard and thickened. This occurs when immune cells activate, producing scar tissue in the skin, internal organs, and small blood vessels.
Women are three times more likely than men to develop scleroderma. It appears to be more common among African American women than other races, and a woman's risk of developing scleroderma is 15 times greater during her childbearing years.
For some people, scleroderma (particularly the localized forms) is fairly mild and resolves with time. However, some people find that living with scleroderma has a significant impact on their quality of life.
Scleroderma is derived from the Greek words "sklerosis," meaning hardness, and "derma," meaning skin. Therefore, it literally means "hard skin." Although it is often referred to as a single disease, it is really a symptom of a group of diseases. This group involves the abnormal growth of connective tissue, which supports the skin and internal organs. Therefore, scleroderma is sometimes used as an umbrella term for these disorders.
In some forms of scleroderma, hard, tight skin is the extent of this abnormal process. However, in other forms, the problem goes much deeper, affecting blood vessels and internal organs, such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Scleroderma is considered a rheumatic disease and a connective tissue disease. A rheumatic disease refers to a group of conditions characterized by inflammation and/or pain in the muscles, joints, or fibrous tissue. A connective tissue disease is one that affects the major substances in the skin, tendons, and bones.