What Is Scleroderma And How Does It Affect Your Skin?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease. The name is derived from the Greek words sclero and derma, meaning hard skin. With an autoimmune disease, the body does not recognize its own cells and responds as if they are an invader. This triggers a response where the body ends up waging war on itself. Scleroderma can affect the skin and internal organs, most commonly the lungs, heart, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. Scleroderma can appear in different forms; it can be:
- Localized – involving only a few places on the skin or
- Systemic – involving both the skin and internal organs
Our skin is the largest organ of our body and performs several vital functions, like offering protection from germs and the elements, insulating us from cold, providing our sense of touch, helping regulate our body temperature, and synthesizing vitamin D. When the skin is compromised by scleroderma, the best way to keep it intact is to find ways to compensate for the functions that have been impaired.
Scleroderma causes your body to overproduce collagen in your body. Collagen is found in connective tissue and is in essence what holds us together. This forms deposits that can interfere with circulation, function, sensation and flexibility. Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment that controls or stops the overproduction of collagen in the body. This can lead to your skin becoming extremely dry, cracked and chapped, especially around the fingertips and other extremities.
Many people living with scleroderma will also experience symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon, in which the fingers and sometimes other extremities change color in response to cold temperature or anxiety. Raynaud’s Phenomenon may signal damage to the blood vessels supplying the hands and can lead to puffy fingers, finger ulcers, and other complications that require aggressive treatment including amputation.