Scleroderma isn't actually a sole disease but a grouping of disorders linked to your body's immune response. For someone with this condition, the body essentially has an abnormal response to itself, prompting internal inflammation and the production of collagen. But instead of supporting and strengthening the tissue of your body, as it would normally, the collagen is produced in excess. With this elevated amount in your system, it can begin to accumulate within the skin, muscles, organs or blood vessels, causing the affected area (or areas) of the body to harden and tighten. When scleroderma is localized, it typically only affects your skin. As it develops in other regions of the body, such as the heart, kidneys or lungs, it is considered systematic.
At the onset of scleroderma, you may never know you're suffering from the condition. This is largely due to the level of collagen needed to actually cause the skin, muscles, organs or blood vessels to harden and tighten. In the beginning, you may notice slight changes in the look of your skin, appearing somewhat swollen and flushed. But as the condition progresses, it can become thick and hard. You may even feel as if your skin is tighter than normal. Calcified deposits of collagen may form under the skin, and you could develop sores or lesions on your body.
If the condition affects the internal organs, you may experience a change in your respiration, manifesting as a shortness of breath or windedness during periods of physical exertion as well as a nonproductive cough. Muscle loss and weakness can also develop in later stages of scleroderma. You may even suffer from irregular or uneven heartbeats, acid reflux disease, indigestion, numbness, pain and issues with your kidneys.
While there may not be a cure for scleroderma, many treatment options are available to better manage and control your condition. Prescription medications are commonly used to suppress the body's immune response as well as help dilate your blood vessels to reduce complications involving your lungs and kidneys. It may also be necessary to take part in some type of physical therapy, especially when the condition affects your fine motor skills or overall mobility. In much more severe cases of scleroderma, amputation of diseased fingers or toes may be essential to maintain your health. You may even need a lung transplant.