In some cases, the skin problems associated with scleroderma fade away on their own in three to five years. The type of scleroderma that affects internal organs usually worsens with time.
No drug has been developed that can stop the underlying process of scleroderma — the overproduction of collagen. But a variety of medications can help control scleroderma symptoms or help prevent complications. To accomplish this, these drugs may:
- Dilate blood vessels. Blood pressure medications that dilate blood vessels may help prevent lung and kidney problems and may help treat Raynaud's disease.
- Suppress the immune system. Drugs that suppress the immune system, such as those taken after organ transplants, may help reduce scleroderma symptoms.
- Reduce stomach acid. Medications such as omeprazole (Prilosec) can relieve symptoms of acid reflux.
- Prevent infections. Antibiotic ointment may help prevent infection of fingertip ulcers caused by Raynaud's phenomenon. Regular influenza and pneumonia vaccinations can help protect lungs that have been damaged by scleroderma.
- Relieve pain. If over-the-counter pain relievers don't help enough, you can ask your doctor to prescribe stronger medications.
Physical or occupational therapists can help you to:
- Manage pain
- Improve your strength and mobility
- Maintain independence with daily tasks
Used as a last resort, surgical options for scleroderma complications may include:
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- Amputation. If finger ulcers caused by severe Raynaud's phenomenon have developed gangrene, amputation may be necessary.
- Lung transplants. People who have developed high blood pressure in the arteries to their lungs (pulmonary hypertension) may be candidates for lung transplants.
Scleroderma (skleer-oh-DUR-muh) is a group of rare diseases that involve the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues — the fibers that provide the framework and support for your body.
In some people, scleroderma affects only the skin. But in many people, scleroderma also harms structures beyond the skin — such as blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract. Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which structures are affected.
Scleroderma affects women more often than men and most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. While there is no cure for scleroderma, a variety of treatments can ease symptoms and improve quality of life.