What exactly is scleroderma and is there a cure?
Women are more likely to suffer from scleroderma that men. It is not contagious and doctors as yet do not believe it to be genetic. Children can also have this condition and it strikes all races. There is no cure right now but there is hope - read on!
Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that "the gradual hardening of tissues and blood vessels that is a hallmark of scleroderma usually starts on the hands and face, with skin thickening, pitted scars and cool, pale fingertips among the earliest symptoms. Damage can then progress inward to internal organs, though the course varies widely from patient to patient. Of the 10,000 cases diagnosed among Americans each year, mainly women, a small subset will die quickly. But many others are able to manage their condition with a variety of treatments and have normal life expectancies.
Doctors also now know that if a patient’s internal organs are going to be affected as well as the skin, that is likely to happen in the first four or five years of the disease. So early diagnosis and close monitoring of the heart, lungs and kidneys are vitally important.
They have also learned that steroids, once viewed as a cure-all for immune disorders, can worsen the effects of scleroderma, especially in the kidneys, and should be used with caution.
“Learning which drugs to avoid was itself a big step,” said Dr. John Varga, the Gallagher Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University and chairman of the Medical Advisory Board for the Scleroderma Foundation, a nonprofit group that sponsors research and support for patients and families.
Kidney disease used to cause 90 percent of scleroderma-related deaths until the advent of a class of blood pressure drugs called angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors in the 1980s. ACE inhibitors prevent kidney damage by slowing down the chemicals that cause the muscles surrounding blood vessels to contract. Complications in the kidneys now account for only 14 percent of scleroderma deaths, Dr. Steen said.
The lungs are still a challenge. About 80 percent of scleroderma patients develop some form of lung problem — either pulmonary hypertension, due to hardening of the veins and arteries in the lung, or pulmonary fibrosis, in which the lung tissue becomes inflamed and then thickened with scarring. Some patients develop both. Either way, breathing becomes more difficult as the lungs become less pliable. "
Scleroderma is a rather frightening condition - almost like helplessly watching some mysterious entity gradually take over your body. But with proper medical attention and regular treatment, this condition can often be controlled. An interesting remedy thus far is Viagra. The drug works well in increasing blood flow in general but especially for those experiencing lung problems.
Other drugs are being tested and there is no shortage of patients willing to experiment, and be experimented on. This mystery illness causes sufferers to do anything for a cure.
For more information on scleroderma, check out the Scleroderma Foundation at www.scleroderma.org
Do you or someone you know suffer from scleroderma? Tell us your experience with this rather mysterious condition.