Scleroderma is a rare and impactful condition that can leave the people who have it to experience discomfort, chronic pain, and even life-threatening complications. While there is no known cure for scleroderma, there are treatment options that can provide some relief from the symptoms. Below is an overview of this condition and a guide on the current treatments for scleroderma. Which treatments could you most benefit from?
What Is Scleroderma?
Before knowing more about scleroderma treatment, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of this condition. Scleroderma is an autoimmune, connective tissue, and rheumatic condition. What ends up happening in patients who have scleroderma is that the body thinks that there is an issue or an injury to the connective tissues when there really isn’t.
In response, these connective tissues become inflamed. The body also begins to produce too much collagen. Too much collagen leads to skin thickening and other complications that can affect areas of the skin as well as the organs.
There are two main types of scleroderma:
- Localized scleroderma—This type impacts the skin and the inner workings that are right underneath the skin.
- Systemic scleroderma—Unlike localized scleroderma, systemic scleroderma can negatively impact multiple systems within the body. This might include the lungs, kidneys, and even the heart.
Symptoms for this condition can vary by person, as well as the type of scleroderma somebody has. People who have scleroderma can experience:
- Skin tightening
- Skin irritation (e.g., itching, redness, etc.)
- Inflammation throughout the body
- Calcium deposits under the skin
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- Numbness in hands and feet
- Gastrointestinal concerns
- Shortness of breath
- Mental health issues
- Blood circulation issues
- Heart failure
Researchers are still working to find a cure for scleroderma. But to help improve patients’ quality of life, scleroderma treatment can be put in place to ease some of these uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms.
Different Types of Scleroderma Treatment
There are multiple types of treatments for scleroderma. These include:
- Physical therapy—To increase movement and strength throughout the parts of the body most affected by scleroderma, physical therapy can be a helpful tool for patients. A physical therapist can guide you through a set of exercises that can help overtime to decrease the pain, discomfort, and progression of scleroderma in some parts of the body, like the hands.
- Medications—Various medications have proven to be effective in treating some symptoms of scleroderma. For example, if somebody has Raynaud’s phenomenon as a result of scleroderma, they might be prescribed calcium channel blockers to reduce the symptoms. Other medications, such as mycophenolate mofetil or other immunosuppressants, try to get the body to stop attacking itself. These medications can sometimes help to reduce the severity or progression of symptoms that someone experiences. For pain management that comes from swelling, anti-inflammatory medications can be useful. Lastly, pain medications might be necessary for people with scleroderma. While over-the-counter medication might work for some people, others need prescribed painkillers. Check with your doctor to see if pain medication would be right for you.
- Surgery—In some cases, surgery is necessary to treat areas of the body impacted by scleroderma. Certain surgeries are needed to tend to the skin that has been affected. Sometimes with scleroderma, the side co-occurring disorders, such as Raynaud’s syndrome, can increase the chances of someone receiving a skin wound. When these wounds are unable to heal properly because of the connective tissue, they can get infected and thus need immediate and intensive treatment. It’s important to note that surgery is not always the best course of action. As with any scleroderma treatment, specific approaches should only be used with certain cases.
It’s essential that you speak with your doctor to know exactly which treatment will work best for you. Your treatment plan will depend on your symptoms and what needs to be treated most urgently. Treatment will also depend on the type of scleroderma you have. Your comfort and pain levels should also be taken into account when working on a treatment plan.
The truth of the matter is that scleroderma can greatly hurt somebody’s ability to live as they normally would. The pain, discomfort, and side effects of scleroderma can be debilitating. However, it doesn’t always have to be this way. Trying different treatments can help reduce the severity of symptoms and bring back a better quality of life to the person living with this condition.
What Are the Next Steps If You Have Scleroderma?
Treating scleroderma can take time. Most importantly, coping with this condition can be physically and emotionally exhausting. One of the first steps you can take after receiving a diagnosis of scleroderma is to reach out for support from others who struggle with this condition. Though it is a rare condition, you are not alone on this journey.
The Pain Resource Community is a network of people who are coping with chronic pain on a daily basis. If you have scleroderma and you are in need of support, this community is a great resource. You should also keep in contact with the specialist who manages your scleroderma symptoms.
If you do not have a designated doctor for the symptoms of this condition, you can get recommendations from others who have been through the process of selecting their own care team. Having support behind you in all areas can help make living with scleroderma a little less overwhelming.
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