What is Systemic Sclerosis?
Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) is an autoimmune disorder, which means that it is a condition in which the immune system attacks the body. Healthy tissue is destroyed because the immune system mistakenly thinks it’s a foreign substance or infection. There are different kinds of autoimmune disorders, and they can affect the body in different ways. SSc affects the texture and appearance of the skin by causing an increase in collagen production. Collagen is a component of connective tissue. However, SSc can affect areas other than the skin. The condition can negatively affect blood vessels, muscles and the heart. Other areas that can be affected are the lungs, kidneys and digestive system. Systemic Sclerosis can appear in other autoimmune disorders. When this occurs, it’s called a mixed connective disorder. The disease is typically seen in people 30 to 50 years old, but it can be diagnosed at any age. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with SSc, and the symptoms and severity of the condition vary from one person to another based on the systems and organs involved.
What are the Symptoms of Systemic Sclerosis?
In the early stages, SSc may only affect the skin. Sufferers may notice a thickening of the skin and shiny areas developing around the mouth, nose, fingers and other bony areas. As the condition progresses, SSc sufferers may start to experience limited movement of the affected areas. Other symptoms can include hair loss, joint pain, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, esophageal reflux and shortness of breath. White lumps under the skin and dilated blood vessels beneath the skin can also occur. Additionally, SSc sufferers may also experience spasms of the blood vessels in the fingers and toes. The extremities may also turn white and blue when in the cold or feeling extreme emotional stress.
How is Systemic Sclerosis Treated?
Typical treatment for Systemic Sclerosis focuses on managing the condition and the symptoms associated with it. Each person experiences a different set of symptoms and problems with the disease, so healthcare providers play a crucial role in the proper management of Systemic Sclerosis. By understanding specific symptoms, doctors can create the best disease management plan for SSc sufferers and maximize the chances for a positive outcome.