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10 Common Symptoms of Scleroderma


Scleroderma is a chronic hardening and tightening of your skin and connective tissues that attach, join, support, or separate your other tissues and organs. It lasts years or your entire life.

Scleroderma is a rare condition, with less than 200,000 cases diagnosed each year in the United States. It tends to affect more women than men, and between 30 and 50 years old. Treatment for scleroderma can include medications, physical therapy, and surgery.

Symptom 1: Ulcers

On the outside, ulcers or sores on your fingers, hands, and toes can be a sign of scleroderma and breakdown of tissue. They can be painful and debilitating. Various therapies and treatments can help manage ulcers from scleroderma.

According to Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK, “A digital ulcer or finger ulcer is a break in the skin. Digital and finger ulcers in people with scleroderma most commonly occur at the tip of the finger, sometimes extending underneath the fingernail, or over the finger joints. They can be extremely painful and can become infected, mainly due to the poor circulation and poor healing capacity. This makes daily activities very problematic.”

Symptom 2: Pain

Are your joints painful and swollen? With scleroderma, joint pain is due to chronic inflammation and swelling. According to the John Hopkins Scleroderma Center, “Excess fluid can cause stiffness in the joints for people with scleroderma as fluid leaches from the blood vessels into the hands and fingers, causing swelling. The pain is often more acute in the morning, but as the body becomes mobile, the fluid disperses, the swelling goes down and the pain eases.”

Also, the center believes that “Nerve pain is a common symptom for many people with scleroderma and conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and neuralgia are regularly experienced. Nerves become trapped due to swelling, causing pain and numbness in the affected area, often worsening at night and disturbing sleep.”

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Symptom 3: Swollen Fingers

Are your fingers and toes swollen? Tight and hardened?

According to Scleroderma.org, “Swelling is another typical early symptom of scleroderma, and this may be especially noticeable upon waking up in the morning due to muscle inactivity at night. The skin of the fingers may look full and sausage-like, making it difficult to close the hand into a fist. Exercising the fingers and toes can help.”

Symptom 4: Red Spots

Do you have a rash of red, bumpy spots or lines on your face or hands?

According to Inspire.com, one patient stated: “I have a terrible rash at the base of my hair on the neck. At the time I discovered the rash/skin thickening on my neck, I didn't know I had scleroderma. I get bumps on back of my neck & a red rash with welts that usually lasts for two days at the most then goes away.”

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Symptom 5: Skin Patches

Do you have hard, red patches of skin? Tightening of the skin? On your chest, back, face, arms, or legs?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Nearly everyone who has scleroderma experiences a hardening and tightening of patches of skin. These patches may be shaped like ovals or straight lines, or cover wide areas of the trunk and limbs. The number, location and size of the patches vary by type of scleroderma.”

Symptom 6: Raynaud's Disease

Those with scleroderma often suffer from Raynaud’s Disease, as well. Raynaud’s Disease causes skin discoloration due to abnormal spasms of blood vessels and a decreased blood supply to your body’s tissues. 

Raynaud's Disease is also known to generate an inflated response to cold.

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Symptom 7: Heartburn

Do you have heartburn? Scleroderma not only affects your skin, but you GI tract, as well.

According to everyday Health, “In the diffuse form of scleroderma, the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract are often affected. GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition in which acid in the stomach flows backward up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other problems. Life with scleroderma can be very difficult, but there are medications that can ease GERD, reduce these unpleasant symptoms, and protect your esophagus from the damage of repeated exposure to stomach acid.”

Symptom 8: Swollen Blood Vessels

If your fingers or toes change color, it can be due to spasms and narrowing of your blood vessels with an excess of collagen or over reaction of your skin’s blood vessels to cold temperatures.

According to the Scleroderma Research Foundation, “Recent research suggests that scleroderma is not only a rheumatic disease, but also has a blood vessel component. Inflammation in the body's blood vessels leads to their narrowing. Further damage from the inflammation and impact of the increased blood pressure can lead to destruction of smaller arteries.”

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Symptom 9: Chronic Cough

Have you had a dry cough for a while? Does it get worse when you exercise or with physical activity?

According to a post on Inspire.com, “… my dad has systemic sclerosis and interstitial lung disease and GERD. He coughs incessantly all day and his coughing fits are sometimes triggered by when he feels excited.”

Symptom 10: Headache

Do you have a severe, throbbing headache or migraine?

It may be due to vascular changes from scleroderma.

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