Scleroderma can affect the blood vessels, skin, kidneys, lungs, esophagus, bowels and blood pressure. The specific symptoms of scleroderma will largely depend on the type and extent of the disease.
What are the symptoms of scleroderma?
Some of the common symptoms of scleroderma include:
Redness of the skin
Itching of the skin
Swelling of the skin affected by scleroderma
Tightening of the skin
Thickening of the skin
Hardening of the skin
Decreased range of motion to the jaw, fingers and toes
Hard nodules located on the fingers and elbows
How is scleroderma diagnosed and treated?
Part of the diagnostic procedure is the physical examination. The doctor will be able to see the outward manifestations of scleroderma. Besides a physical examination, the doctor will need to order some blood tests. The doctor will order an ANA (antinuclear antibody) test, which is a test to check for certain antibodies in the blood. The ANA test looks for the antibodies which attack the DNA within the nucleus of the body’s cells.
Blood tests to diagnose scleroderma
There are different antibodies which are present with different forms of scleroderma which are the anticentromere antibody and the antitopoisomerase I antibody. The anticentromere antibody is most commonly found in people who have limited scleroderma and the antitopoisomerase I antibody is more commonly found in people with diffuse scleroderma.
Other tests to diagnose scleroderma
Other tests, such as an EKG, Chest X-ray, CT scan, cardiac catheterization and echocardiogram will most likely be done to rule out or confirm the presence of scleroderma. These tests are necessary because there could be an underlying disease other than scleroderma which causes some of the manifestations.
EKG – An EKG (electrocardiogram) records and amplifies the heart’s tiny electrical impulses which conduct contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle. The EKG is expressed in graphic form which can be interpreted by a computer and by the ordering physician. The heart rate and turbulence of the blood flow may be impaired in people with scleroderma.
Cardiac cath – A very thin catheter is inserted into the femoral artery in the thigh or into the radial artery in the arm. The catheter is advanced to the heart in the area above the aortic valve. A cardiac catheterization (also called cardiac cath) measures the pressure within the arteries of the heart and pulmonary system.
ECHO – An echocardiogram (ECHO) is a Doppler analysis done by a sonogram on the heart in real time. A transducer transmits and receives sound waves which create a moving picture on a computer. An echocardiogram can detect pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) which is often present with systemic scleroderma.
Chest X-ray – A chest X-ray can show the position of the heart and lungs in the chest. If there is an abnormality of the heart and lungs due to scleroderma, or some other cause, it may be visualized on an X-ray.
CT scan – A computed tomography (CT) scan visualizes the internal organs of the body much more vividly than an X-ray. A CT scan can indicate heart, kidney and intestinal involvement with diffuse scleroderma.
Limited scleroderma may be symptomatic in specific areas such as the jaw, face, lips, fingers and elbows. Systemic (diffuse) scleroderma can involve the skin, connective tissue and organs of the entire body. The degree inflammation and calcification will depend on the type of scleroderma. The systemic form is much more serious, but it often progresses much more slowly than the localized (limited) form of scleroderma.
When you have scleroderma, it is important to report any changes you notice in your body. If your mobility is becoming impaired, or if you begin having more constipation than usual, or you notice any differences in your body, report them to your doctor.
Treatment options for scleroderma will be discussed in a future article.