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Systemic Sclerosis - What Causes It?

Written and reviewed by
Dr.Isha Jindal 88% (50ratings)
MBBS,MD(medicine), Post graduate diploma in rheumatology
General Physician, Panchkula  •  13years experience
Systemic Sclerosis - What Causes It?

Autoimmune disorders are one of the least understood disorders in the whole of medical science. Systemic Sclerosis is also an autoimmune disorder in which the skin undergoes changes in texture and characteristics.

However, the changes are not confined to the skin alone. It can affect blood vessels, muscles, digestive system, heart, kidneys, as well as the lungs. It typically affects people in the age group of 30 to 50 years, but the good thing is that doctors can diagnose this at any age.

It has been observed that more women fall prey to this disorder than men. The severity of symptoms may also vary from person to person. Nevertheless, the real cause of worry is the progressive nature of the disease. Due to this, it is, in fact, sometimes referred to as Progressive Systemic Sclerosis.

Causes of Systemic Sclerosis

It is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the skin and precipitates the problem. The attack by Immune System precipitates increased collagen production in the body, which accumulates in the skin tissue. This leads to changes in characteristics and the appearance of the skin.

Symptoms of Systemic Sclerosis

Systemic Sclerosis affects only the skin in the early stages. It may lead to thickening of skin and development of shiny areas around bony areas, such as nose, mouth, fingers etc. However, as the disease progresses, it may limit movement of these affected areas. So one may have a problem in opening the mouth, parting fingers etc.

Other symptoms are:

● Loss of hair

● Deposit of lumps under the skin

● Blood vessels under the skin getting dilated

● Pain in the joints

● Breathing difficulties

● Dry cough


● Diarrhea

Swallowing difficulty

● Reflux of food from esophagus

● Feeling of bloating after taking meals

In addition to the above, one may also sometimes experience spasms in the blood vessels of fingers and toes. Legs and hands may turn blue or white if a person is undergoing emotional stress or is in extreme cold. This is also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Risk Factors

Though the causes of the disease are not yet known, there are some risk factors which can make a person susceptible to this disease:

● If a person is undergoing chemotherapy with certain drugs like Bleomycin or are exposed to stuff like silica dust, organic solvents etc., one may become susceptible to this disease.

● Women are more prone to acquiring this disease than men.

● If a person is a Native American or an African-American then too he/she is more susceptible to this problem.

Treatment of Systemic Sclerosis

Systemic Sclerosis can’t be cured, but its symptoms can certainly be reduced to some extent. So, treatment is specific to symptoms one is experiencing, and may include using the following:

● corticosteroids

● immunosuppressants

● nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

● blood pressure medication

● aid to resolve breathing difficulty

● physical therapy, light therapy etc.

The fact that this disease really can’t be fully cured makes this a pretty scare disease. Silver lining is that medication and other treatment options are able to suppress most of the symptoms.

In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!
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