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Managing scleroderma

Personal support for scleroderma.

What is scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a medical term for hard skin. It’s the symptom of a group of diseases that affect connective tissue. Connective tissue is the material in your body that supports other tissues or organs. Scleroderma can also result in pain and swelling in muscles, joints and tissue.

There are two main types of scleroderma – localized and systemic. Localized scleroderma affects the skin and the tissue under the skin. Systemic scleroderma affects the skin and other organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys and digestive system. Because many parts of the body are affected by scleroderma, it is usually treated by a team of doctors. This team is often led by a rheumatologist. Symptoms of scleroderma can include:

  • White or purple-blue fingers and toes (also called Raynaud’s Phenomenon)
  • Hard, thick or tight skin on the fingers
  • Stiff joints
  • Small red spots on the hands and face
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Thick, oval-shaped, reddish patches of skin on the chest, stomach or back (localized scleroderma only)

Treatment for scleroderma

Treatment can help manage scleroderma. But there is no known cure. Treatment is focused on specific symptom management and can vary widely. Always work with your doctor to identify the best treatment for you.

Treatment options include:

  • Medicine: Prescription medicine can be used to treat symptoms in different parts of the body. For example, if the blood vessels in your hands and feet narrow (Raynaud’s Phenomenon), they can be treated with a medicine that opens up blood vessels. If you have stomach problems, diarrhea, constipation or heartburn medicines may be prescribed. Over-the-counter antihistamines can help with itching.
  • Creams: Special creams can help moisten the skin.
  • Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms. For skin symptoms, using sunscreen, staying out of the sun and using oil-based moisturizers can help. For stomach symptoms, eating small, frequent meals, avoiding spicy foods, and staying upright after eating can help. For Raynaud’s or stiff and painful joints, symptoms can be helped by stopping smoking, dressing warm and exercising.

Support from a HealthPartners nurse

If you or a loved one are living with a condition, we can help you learn how to:

  • Manage your symptoms
  • Prevent complications
  • Stay out of the hospital

Eligible members can receive free telephone help from nurses at HealthPartners. These calls are voluntary and confidential.

Or call us at 952-883-5469 or 800-871-9243. We’re here Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Helpful resources

HealthPartners provides these links as a convenience and for informational purposes. We are not responsible for the content on these sites. Listing them here doesn’t constitute an endorsement. If you have medical or health concerns, talk to your health care professional for advice.

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