What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma affects the connective tissues of the body - these are the tissues that hold together our joints, muscles, blood vessels and internal organs. 

The connective tissues of people with scleroderma have too much of a protein called collagen. Collagen is what gives connective tissue its strength, but too much of it causes the tissue to harden and tighten.

Many different areas of the body can be affected. Symptoms can be different depending on the person and the part of the body. But, can include:

  • Thickening and hardening of the skin, particularly on the fingers, arms and face
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon: The fingers or toes turn white, then blue in the cold, and then red as blood flow returns. This is caused by narrowing of the blood vessels, in response to cold weather. 
  • Small white chalky lumps (calcium deposits) under the skin.
  • Stiffness and pain in the muscles and/or joints.
  • Indigestion or heartburn.
  • Diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Shortness of breath or reduced ability to exercise.

What causes it?

The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown. Genetics, the immune system and environmental factors may play roles in causing this condition. This has yet to be proven in research.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no specific test for scleroderma. Your doctor will diagnose scleroderma from your symptoms, a physical examination and various tests, such as blood tests or a skin biopsy (a small piece of skin is removed and examined under a microscope). It may take several visits before your doctor can tell if you have scleroderma as the symptoms can overlap with other diseases and types of arthritis.

What is the treatment?

There is currently no cure for Scleroderma. But, many people with the condition are able to lead a normal, or nearly normal, life with simple treatment or lifestyle changes.

  • Talk to your doctor about medicines - some medicines may help with problems with joints and muscles, blood vessels, kidneys, lungs or the digestive system
  • Manage Raynaud’s phenomenon - minimise exposure to cold and sudden temperature changes. Keep you hands and feet warm with gloves and warm socks. 
  • Look after your skin -  by keeping it clean, well-lubricated and warm to help prevent dryness and infections.
  • Live a healthy life - With regular physical activity, a healthy diet and stopping smoking. The healthy activities will help keep your skin and joints flexible, boost circulation, help reduce problems with the digestive system, and reduce stress to help your overall health and wellbeing.
  • Acknowledge your feelings and seek support -  It is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad and sometimes angry. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life. 

Download our free information sheet - Scleroderma

More information and support 

Download some of our free handy information sheets on Scleroderma and managing arthritis. 

Join one of our online support groups to connect with other Australians living with arthritis. 

Have questions? Call our free infoline on 1800 011 041 to speak with a member of our health team. 

Register for Arthritis Assist to speak one-on-one with someone else living with arthritis.