A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop scleroderma with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing scleroderma. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Factors that can increase your risk of developing scleroderma include:


The morphea type of scleroderma usually strikes people around 20-40 years old. Systemic scleroderma—be it limited or diffuse—is more likely to occur in people 30-50 years old.


Overall, women are three times as likely as men to develop scleroderma. During the ages of 30-55, women develop the disease at a rate 7-12 times higher than men. Researchers suspect that women may be at higher risk because of prior pregnancies (fetal cells may trigger an immune reaction) or the effects of estrogen, but more studies are needed to see if there is a link.

Genetic Factors

People who have family members with autoimmune diseases have an increased likelihood of developing scleroderma.

Ethnic Background

Young African-American women have a particularly high rate of scleroderma and tend to have more severe forms of the disease. Choctaw Native Americans in Oklahoma have an extremely high rate of scleroderma.

Environmental Factors

A number of environmental exposures seem to increase the risk of scleroderma, including:

  • Coal mining
  • Gold mining
  • Exposure to:
    • Polyvinyl chloride (used in the plastics industry)
    • Epoxy resins
    • Benzene
    • Toluene
    • Trichloroethylene
    • Pentazocine
    • Bleomycin
    • Aniline-contaminated rapeseed oil (used for cooking)